The Population and Immigration Authority called on migrants from Sudan and Eritrea to leave “to their country or to a third country”.
“Every country must guard its borders,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week, announcing the plan.
“The infiltrators have a clear choice — cooperate with us and leave voluntarily, respectably, humanely and legally, or we will have to use other tools at our disposal, which are also according to the law.”
Those who leave Israel by the end of March will be given $3,500, along with airfare and other incentives. But the Hotline for Migrant Workers, a group of activists, condemned the move, saying expulsions “put the refugees’ lives in danger”.
Thousands of Africans entered Israel before it erected a border fence along the border with Egypt. No migrants arrived in 2017, according to the immigration authority, as a result of the wall.
According to the UN refugee agency, some 27 500 Eritreans and 7 800 Sudanese were in Israel and only eight Eritreans and two Sudanese have been recognised as “refugees”.
The “third country” is said to be either Rwanda or Uganda where the mostly economic migrants would go since their numbers threaten the Jewish character of Israel, the government says.
Netanyahu had said earlier that Israel had reached understandings with African countries but did name the countries. Based on testimonies to Israeli rights groups, the main destination appears to be Rwanda, The New York Times reported.
The governments of Rwanda and Uganda are however denying any deal with Israel to host thousands of African migrants, The Associated Press reported.
The UN refugee agency has meanwhile expressed “serious concerns” over Israeli proposals to imprison Africans who refuse to leave.
It noted a “forced relocation policy” beginning in December 2013 that already had sent about 4 000 of the migrants to two African countries “named in media reports as Rwanda and Uganda”. It called the policy secretive and untransparent.
A Rwanda deputy foreign minister, Olivier Nduhungirehe, told The Associated Press his country has never reached any agreement with Israel and is currently only engaged in negotiations to host some of the thousands of African migrants from Libya, he said.
Uganda’s state minister for international relations, Henry Okello Oryem, told the AP it was “fake news”. He said: “That’s fake news. We don’t know where that story is coming from. We don’t know why it keeps coming up.”