JERUSALEM – African migrants who entered Israel illegally will be given cash incentives if they leave on their own soon, or they will face expulsion, the Interior Ministry said Friday.
A tent city is being built to hold other migrants, the vast majority, who can stay for now, the ministry said.
About 60,000 Africans have trekked through Egypt and other Muslim countries to reach Israel over the past few years. Many are looking for work, while others are seeking political asylum.
A Jerusalem court has ruled that some 4,500 migrants, mostly from South Sudan, Ivory Coast and Mali, are to be expelled.
Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Hadad said Friday that those who willingly leave within the next week or two will receive cash incentives of 1,000 euros ($1,200) and a plane ticket. She said that otherwise, they will be expelled.
Earlier, Interior Minister Eli Yishai said it would take months to expel them.
He told Israel Radio that that a tent city and holding facilities are being built for other migrants who are living in major population centers. He said they will receive food and health care and will have good living conditions there.
Because many are from Sudan, an enemy of Israel, and Eritrea, a country with a flawed human rights record, the line between refugees and economic migrants is blurred. Therefore, Israel has quietly allowed most migrants from those two countries to stay without processing their asylum applications.
Yishai warned that an influx of migrants could destroy Israel's Jewish character. In some places, entire neighborhoods are inhabited by migrants. Tensions are high in southern Tel Aviv, where a series of rapes, robberies and violence have been blamed on the Africans, sparking protests.
Police say the crime rate among the migrants is lower than for Israelis.
Court decisions are pending regarding migrants from other African countries, mainly Eritrea and Sudan.
The migrants infiltrate Israel's porous border with Egypt, exploiting the widespread lawlessness in Egypt's Sinai peninsula.
Israel is erecting a barrier along the roughly 200 kilometer (125 mile) border with Egypt. But the migrants continue to arrive at a rate of about 1,000 a month, and some report being raped, tortured and extorted by the Arab Bedouins who smuggle them through.