Israel Reverses Course Hours After Signing UN Deal To Resettle African Migrants

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He said he would meet Tuesday morning with members of the public from south Tel Aviv, where most of the migrants have concentrated, to hear their concerns about the plan.

He added, "In the meantime, I am suspending the implementation of the agreement, and after meeting with the representatives I will re-examine the agreement again".

Numerous migrants have flocked in recent years to neighbourhoods in southern Tel Aviv, rapidly changing the historically working-class areas into what has become known as "Little Africa" and sparking tension with the local Jewish population.

For each migrant resettled overseas, Israel would give "temporary residence" to a migrant in Israel, Mr Netanyahu told a news conference earlier on Monday.

The stated plan would have ended over a decade of uncertainty for most asylum seekers in Israel, as the government has increasingly pressured migrants to leave the country through detention and wage deductions.

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Netanyahu concurrently announced that Israel would set up a body to implement a "rehabilitation plan" for southern Tel Aviv and encourage African migrants to move out of an area that had become known as "Little Africa".

Majority arrived in Israel - via Egypt - during the period from 2006 to 2013 before a security fence was erected along the border between Israel and Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

A Canadian minister said that Canada was already in contact with UNHCR and Israel about accepting more refugees.

"The agreement with the United Nations to absorb the infiltrators is bad for Israel", he said.

As the migrants could face danger or imprisonment if returned to their homelands, Israel offered to relocate them to an unnamed African country, which deportees and aid workers said was Rwanda or Uganda.

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The UN refugee agency meanwhile said it had found out about Netanyahu's initial suspension of the agreement through news reports.

Israel had said in January it would pay the migrants $3,500 to go home or to a "third" country.

Netanyahu said the opposition was "baseless and absurd" and that Israel would resettle "genuine refugees".

The issue has pitted right-wing nationalists, who argue that the presence of Christian and Muslim immigrants are a threat to the country's identity as a Jewish state, against progressives and Holocaust survivors who say Israel's history means it ought to take in refugees fleeing conflict and starvation. The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, a group that advocated for asylum-seekers, welcomed the news, noting that it was symbolic that the announcement had happened during Passover, "the holiday of freedom".

Education Minister Naftali Bennett said that "granting legal status to 16,000 infiltrators will turn Israel into a paradise for infiltrators and is a surrender to the false campaign spread in the media in recent months". He called for the plan to be brought to the Cabinet for a vote.

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