Israel has come a step closer to deporting Africans it sees as illegal migrants. Human rights groups oppose the move.
An Israeli court has paved the way for the deportation of hundreds of South Sudanese deemed to have entered the country illegally, rejecting a petition by human rights groups that had delayed the move.
The Jerusalem District Court ruled on Thursday that the petitioners had not proven that the migrants would face "risk to life or exposure to serious damage" if they were deported. It said the state was therefore not obligated to continue to give de facto asylum to the estimated 1,500 South Sudanese.
The rights groups argued in their petition that South Sudan was still in the grip of warfare and poverty and lacked proper medical services, meaning that a recently cancelled "collective protection" order should be reinstated.
A court statement, however, maintained that although there was some instability in the country, "the vast majority of its territory [was] not at risk."
Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who in January cancelled the temporary protection policy, praised the court ruling.
"[The decision] will allow the deportation of 1,500 infiltrators who arrived from South Sudan," a statement from his office said.
A ministry spokeswoman said the migrants would be "processed" for deportation "in the near future."
Yishai was quoted by Israel Radio as saying he hoped Thursday's ruling would be "the first in a series of measures that would allow the deportation of all citizens of Eritrea and north Sudan."
"This is not about waging war against them, but about safeguarding the Zionist-Jewish dream in the land of Israel," he was reported as saying.
Some 60,000 Africans, most of them from Sudan and Eritrea, have entered Israel over its border with Egypt.
South Sudan declared independence from northern Sudan in July 2011 after a longstanding war between the two regions, but territorial disputes continue to generate armed border conflict.
The rightist Israeli government sees the migrants as an economic and demographic threat, and there has been a recent increase in racial tension, culminating in violent street riots.
Humanitarian agencies argue, however, that many of them should be considered not as "economic migrants," but as refugees with asylum rights.
tj/ncy (AFP, Reuters)