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Israel deports first group of South Sudanese illegal immigrants

Israel deported 123 illegal South Sudanese immigrants early Monday, with a charter flight departing Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport en route to the new African country's capital Juba.

israel deportations 6 18 2012Enlarge
Two girls divided by the bus window, touch hands as South Sudanese refugees board a bus taking them to Ben Gurion International airport, near Tel Aviv. (OREN ZIV/AFP/Getty Images)

Israel deported 123 illegal South Sudanese immigrants early Monday, with a charter flight departing Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport en route to the new African country's capital Juba.

The Jerusalem Post reported that the South Sudanese men, women, and children were joined on the  flight by four members of a South Sudan diplomatic delegation overseeing the deportations.

Each adult received $1,300, while children were given $500 each, according to YNetnews.com.

CNN cited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as saying at a Cabinet meeting Sunday that another plane carrying the "illegal infiltrators" was set to depart next week for Africa.

"Today, the government will begin the operation to repatriate illegal work infiltrators to their countries of origin," Netanyahu said, according to a cabinet communique released by Israel's foreign ministry. "We will do this is an orderly and dignified manner."

And Amnon Ben-Ami, the director of the Population and Immigration Authority told Ynet "all those who boarded the flight back to Sudan did so voluntarily," and that more than 500 more South Sudanese had asked to be repatriated.

However, aid groups claim the migrants were not given the opportunity to apply for refugee status and so their only other choice was to be detained and expelled.

More from GlobalPost: Israel rounds up of South Sudanese migrants for deportation

The Post, meantime, cited Interior Minister Eli Yishai as saying Sunday that the scheduled deportation of 700-1,500 South Sudanese barely scratched the surface of solving the migrant problem.

The real problem, Yishai said, "is with Eritrea that has 30,000 people [in Israel] and north Sudan with 15,000."

He hoped "that the legal obstacles to this will be lifted soon and we can expel them as well."

Meanwhile, about 60,000 African migrants — many of whom have entered the country through its southern border with Egypt — remain in Israel.

Most of them are from Eritrea, Sudan and South Sudan, and while some have refugee status and hold temporary permits to remain in the country, Israel does not recognize the status of most.

Residents of southern Tel Aviv neighborhoods have blamed the large number of Africans there for increasing crime, and also for overtaxing the infrastructure and public services.

Another complaint is that illegal immigration is changing the fabric of Israel.

More than 2,000 new migrants to the country have been reported over the past month, according to CNN.

An Israeli court earlier this month green lighted a government plan to deport 1,500 African migrants.

Amnon Ben-Ami, the director of the Population and Immigration Authority told Ynet that "all those who boarded the Monday flight back to Sudan did so voluntarily," adding that over the past week more than 500 South Sudanese have asked to return home "in the framework of this process."

However, aid groups and Israeli refugee agencies claim the migrants' only other choice was to be detained and then expelled. The organizations said the migrants were not given the opportunity to apply for refugee status.  

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/israel-and-palestine/120617/israel-south-sudanese-illegal-immigrants-tel-aviv-ben-gurion