Netanyahu vows to rid Tel Aviv district of illegal migrants

Tel Aviv (AFP) –


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday visited a rundown Tel Aviv neighbourhood with a large African population and pledged to rid it of illegal immigrants.

His tour came after a supreme court decision on Monday ruled that the state cannot indefinitely detain illegal migrants who refuse to be deported to unnamed third countries.

"We will return south Tel Aviv to the citizens of Israel," he said on the televised trip.

"We are dealing with illegal infiltrators, not with refugees, but illegal infiltrators. And Israel's right is to safeguard its borders and to keep away illegal infiltrators," he said.

Tens of thousands of Africans -- mainly Eritrean and Sudanese -- have entered Israel in recent years, mainly by illegally crossing the desert border from neighbouring Egypt.

Some came for work and others for asylum from harsh regimes in their home countries.

Israel has granted refugee status to only a handful and has a long backlog of applicants.

With many unwilling or afraid to return to their homelands, Israel has reached secret agreements with other unnamed African states to take them in -- but these insist the migrants must agree to go.

According to local media, the Israeli authorities indefinitely detain the migrants if they refuse to leave.

The supreme court ruled this week that detention could not exceed two months.

A court transcript seen by AFP said: "It was decided unanimously that there is no obstacle in principle to removing infiltrators to a third country."

But "the infiltrators' lack of consent to be removed to a third country cannot be seen as refusal to cooperate with expulsion for which they can be detained for more than 60 days".