YEDIOT AHARONOT, HAARETZ (Israel), LE TEMPS (Switzerland), AL JAZEERA (Qatar)
TEL AVIV - Amidst rising tensions over the issue of illegal immigration in Israel, more than 100 undocumented South Sudanese were sent back to their native country on Monday.
Haaretz reported that the migrants, including 43 children, underwent a registration and identification process at Ben Gurion International airport in Tel Aviv before boarding a plane for Juba, the capital of the newly founded South Sudanese state. The migrants each received $1,300 per adult and $500 per child.
Ultra-orthodox Interior Minister Eli Yishai was at the terminal to oversee the departure, which is the beginning of a process involving 2,000 South Sudanese. Yishai - who previously stated that the illegal migrants were a threat to the Jewish character of Israel - said that he did not "belittle the pain of the families returning home."
Aid groups disputed the voluntary nature of the migrant's departure. An Al Jazeera report said that security forces told the migrants that they had a choice between leaving Israel or going to jail.
Illegal immigration is a hotly debated topic in Israel, and the latest departures are only a fraction of the undocumented population. Le Temps reported that there are approximately 650,000 illegal immigrants currently in the country. Israel cannot deport the 150,000 North Sudanese and Eritrean migrants because of several legal obstacles, including collective protections guaranteed by the United Nations.
Activists quoted by Ynet News, the English website for Yediot Aharonot, said that sending these North Sudanese and Eritrean migrants back to their country would put their well-being at risk. "If we have no choice, we'd prefer to remain in prison in Israel rather than be sent back to Eritrea. We ask that Israel protect us," said Gabriel Takala, a 31-year-old Eritrean asylum-seeker interviewed by Ynet News.