The fate of African asylum seekers living in Israel remained unclear after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu backtracked on a plan to relocate 16,250 Eritreans and Sudanese to Western countries, while normalizing the status of a further 16,000.
Netanyahu said he was suspending an agreement with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), after members of his coalition government objected to the plan.
Canada was named as one of the Western countries that was ready to accept Africans, but according to Mat Genest, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), this country will continue to accept Africans from Israel.
Canada has a separate agreement with Israel, under which it will accept African asylum seekers, he said.
“Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has been monitoring this situation closely and has reached an arrangement with Israeli authorities to suspend the deportation of individuals who have private sponsorship (PSR) applications for Canada in the current inventory, until the processing of their case has been completed,” said Beatrice Fenelon, a spokesperson for IRCC.
“Canada is working to resettle 1,000 persons as privately sponsored refugees from Israel to Canada in 2018. Canada resettled more than 1,086 refugees from Israel in 2017, of whom the majority were Eritreans,” she continued.
“We have asked sponsors to advise the department should any of their applicants be issued deportation or detention notices. The IRCC office in Tel Aviv has dedicated resources to deal with the applications and will also be providing letters to PSR applicants who request confirmation that their applications are in process, which can be presented to Israeli authorities as required.”
JIAS (Jewish Immigrant Aid Services) Toronto is a sponsorship agreement holder, which permits it to facilitate the immigration of refugees to Canada, in situations where there private sponsors have been lined up.
“JIAS has and continues to sponsor African asylum seekers who are in Israel, a life-saving work that would be impossible without the invaluable help and support of many Canadian groups and organizations in our community,” said Lia Kisel, JIAS Toronto’s language and settlement director.
Kisel said that JIAS has received the go-ahead to sponsor more refugees. “We have received our new allocation for 2018. Over 70 per cent of it will be used to sponsor African asylum seekers currently in Israel,” she said.
“JIAS has collaborated with CIJA on an action alert requesting the government to expand the capacity of the Canadian embassy in Israel to process the resettlement of more of these asylum-seekers in Canada.”
Shimon Fogel, CEO of Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), said that, “We strongly support (the acceptance of African asylum seekers from Israel) and have been lobbying the federal government and have asked our community to engage through (a CIJA-initiated campaign).
“We have been in touch with the government on this issue regularly. (It) has been extremely responsive and is doing everything it can to help. We applaud them and commend them for their efforts.”
In Ottawa, meanwhile, Israeli Ambassador Nimrod Barkan said that, “The Canadian government requested that Israel defer any deportation procedures to those who requested asylum or immigration status to Canada. We have replied positively to this request and as far as those who requested asylum or immigration status in Canada, they will be protected until the Canadian procedures are to be finished.”
Daniel Schild, a spokesperson for CHAI Canadians Helping Asylum Seekers in Israel, noted that the mass demonstrations in Israel, along with advocacy from Jews around the world, likely influenced Netanyahu’s initial announcement.
The earlier Israeli plan to deport asylum seekers to two African countries, identified as Rwanda and Uganda, had provoked a visceral response from many Jews. “As soon as you told Jews about deportations, the first thing you think about is the Nazi era,” Schild said. “Nobody can stomach deportations.”