Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara said on Monday he will work to repatriate Ivorians living undocumented in Israel, in talks with Israel’s premier and its parliamentary speaker, officials said.
Ouattara held talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and with speaker Reuven Rivlin, with both meetings touching on the issue of illegal immigration from Africa.
“Ivory Coast President Ouattara expressed agreement that Israel should repatriate Ivory Coast nationals who arrived here without permits,” Netanyahu’s office said.
But after talks with Rivlin, Ouattara raised questions about Israel’s estimate of some 2,000 Ivorians living illegally in Israel.
“We are not sure that this number is accurate,” a Knesset statement quoted Ouattara as saying, indicating his belief that “a large part” of that number were not Ivorians.
“We shall examine the list and return our citizens to their country and to their homeland in full cooperation with Israel,” he said.
In the past week, Israel has been conducting mass raids to round up Africans, with the aim of sending them home.
A first planeload of 127 South Sudanese was flown back to the capital Juba before dawn on Monday.
Until recently, the South Sudanese were shielded by an Israeli policy giving them protection as a group from deportation.
But on June 7, a Jerusalem court overturned that long-standing policy, ruling they were no longer at risk in their homeland and clearing the way for the mass expulsion of what rights groups say is 700 people.
Israeli officials put the number at about 1,500.
Six months earlier, Israel’s Population and Migration Authority had reached a similar conclusion about the Ivory Coast, deciding conditions there had improved enough since the end of the civil war in 2007, that it was safe to send Ivorians home.
“We know very well about the migration problem as a state which both absorbs refugees and from which 250,000 refugees fled during the grave political crisis,” Ouattara told Rivlin.
“So far we have managed to reduce the number of (our) refugees around the world to around 60,000 and we hope that they will return to Ivory Coast in the coming months,” he said.
“To me, it’s quite humiliating to see African citizens trying to reach another country at almost any price. It’s terrible to see African youth trying to cross the sea and drowning on the way to Europe.”
Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who has championed the removal of every last illegal immigrant, says the arrest campaign which began in earnest on June 6, is “just the beginning” of a massive operation to rid Israel of an estimated 60,000 Africans, the vast majority of them from Sudan and Eritrea.
Some are refugees fleeing persecution in their home nations, but others are economic migrants.
The speaker told him the undocumented migrants were placing “an economic and social burden” on Israel which was creating “unrest.”
Tensions over undocumented migrants exploded into violence last month when a protest in south Tel Aviv turned ugly, with demonstrators smashing African-run shops and property, chanting “Blacks out!”