Professor Shlomo Mor-Yosef, director general of the Population and Immigration Authority at Israel’s Interior Ministry, said Israel’s policy of deporting illegal migrants is “nothing new.”

“Last year, we asked more than 5,000 Europeans to leave Israel who came in illegally and stayed,” he stated. “These people are not just from Africa, but mainly Europe.”

More recently, he added that Israel stopped 20 people from Moldova lacking proper visas from entering the country. “It is nothing new that Israel is not welcoming every person who comes,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to convince illegals to leave.”

In light of the Supreme Court’s approval and the Israeli government’s plan to deport African migrants who entered the country illegally beginning in April, Mor-Yosef discussed the government’s decision at a Jerusalem press conference earlier this week.

Some 60,000 African migrants, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan, crossed into Israel through various countries and the Sinai Desert in the past seven to nine years in the hopes of finding economic opportunities.

In January, a number of them (Mor-Yosef could not specify how many) were notified that this would be their last renewal, and come April, they would be offered a hearing with a lawyer, if requested, or they could agree to leave to a third country.

African migrants have recently stopped entering illegally into Israel, according to Mor-Yosef, largely because of stronger border controls, the political situation in the Sinai and Israel’s changing deportation policies.

Unlike refugees, 75 percent to 80 percent of the migrants are unmarried men of working age (the rest are mostly women of this demographic), and as asylum-seekers are automatically given the right to find work in Israel after approval of their visa renewals every two months.

Those who have refugee status—Darfurians, for example—get special recognition with social benefits and medical insurance. In terms of recognizing someone as a refugee, “Israel is strict on criteria,” said Mor-Yosef.

Those who were given notice of April deportation are able to apply for extensions on their temporary residence visas. In the past five years, more than 40,000 migrants, both African and non-African, have applied for visa extensions. In 2013, 3,264 Eritreans and Sudanese applied for visa extensions; 2,106 in 2014; 4,748 in 2015; 2,628 in 2016; and 2,654 in 2017.

At the same time, 160 percent more Ukrainians and 40 percent more Georgians have been applying—more than both Eritreans and Sudanese combined.

“Anyone who wanted to file, the doors were open,” emphasized Mor-Yosef. “It is not easy or broad [to do so], but it was possible.”

‘Where to draw the line’

According to Mor-Yosef, no men of non-working age, women, children or families will be deported. In addition, children of migrants are entitled to education and health care, and adults will be extended the rights to basic wages, emergency medical services and travel documents for legal status after three months of living in Israel.

Those who are deported will be given the option to decide where to go, said Mor-Yosef, citing that 1,000 deported migrants chose to leave for Canada, which has a welcoming entry policy. “We hope there will be more this year,” the Israeli official said. “We are continuing our discussion with the Canadian embassy.”

Mor-Yosef insisted that “nobody is being sent to their death; they can choose their final destination.” He added that 40 percent of the migrants who left on their own accord (more than 22,000) opted to return to their home countries after being given a plane ticket and $3,500, equivalent of two-and-a-half years of living costs in Eritrea.

Even as April arrives, the Israeli official clarified, there will be no trucks going through the streets forcefully gathering illegal immigrants.

Mor-Yosef recognized that on a personal and human level, there is indeed a dilemma associated with deporting those who could have a better life in Israel, but, he said, “this tension exists all the time in public service, and every government decides where to draw the line.”

Similar decisions existed in sectors of his previous work (he served as director-general of Hadassah Medical Organization for more than a decade), he continued, such as a hospital administrator deciding which four patients should have the two available beds.

Said Mor-Yosef: “We are dealing with a delicate and humanitarian issue in the best way possible.”