JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli authorities have begun ordering hundreds of African migrants to report to a new detention center in the country's southern desert while it seeks to find them a place to settle and offers incentives to leave, an official said Wednesday.
Daniel Solomon, a legal adviser for Israel's Interior Ministry, said Wednesday that several hundred migrants are expected in the new Holot facility by the end of the month, with the number swelling to 3,500 by the end of February. The migrants will remain there while Israel processes asylum requests and searches for other countries to take them in.
The move is Israel's latest step to cope with an influx of some 50,000 African migrants, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan, who have poured into Israel in recent years. The Africans claim they are refugees fleeing persecution and danger. Israel says they are economic migrants seeking jobs, though it is barred from sending them home because they could face danger in their conflict-ridden countries.
Solomon said that no one would be deported, but the migrants would be given incentives to leave. Holot is meant to be an "open" facility, where residents can come and go. But they must sign into the facility several times a day and sleep there, making it impossible for them to stray far away.
"All their needs will be taken care of," he said. "The idea being basically taking them off the job market, they are not allowed to work outside the facility even though they are free to come and go."
He said Israel would move to quickly process requests for refugee status by Holot residents. He also said Israel has offered Africans grants of several thousand dollars to leave, and worked out a deal with a third country in Africa to take in the migrants. He refused to identify the third country or say what Israel had offered in return, but said he expected it to begin taking in migrants in the near future.
Solomon said the Interior Ministry has begun issuing summons for people to report to Holot when they try to renew visas to stay in the country. The effort is starting with young males who have been in the country for the longest amount of time.
In recent weeks, African migrants have staged a series of demonstrations in Tel Aviv demanding they be recognized as refugees — a status that would give them residency rights.
Several thousand Africans demonstrated outside the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv on Wednesday demanding asylum and the right to work.