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Israel to send 16,000 African migrants to Western countries

Israel says it has cancelled plans to deport African migrants to Africa, adding that it has instead reached a deal with the United Nations refugee agency to send more than 16,000 to Western countries.

Israel and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees have reached an agreement “for the departure of at least 16,250 migrants ... to Western nations," the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement on Monday, adding that the agreement would allow the removal of more migrants from Israel than in the previous plan.

The statement said that other migrants, many of whom are seeking asylum, will be allowed to remain in Israel for at least the next five years.

A UNHCR spokeswoman also confirmed that an agreement had been reached but gave no details.

At a press conference later in the day, Netanyahu identified Canada, Germany, and Italy as some of the countries set to host the migrants.

There are currently some 42,000 African migrants in Israel, and more than 1,400 asylum seekers being held in two detention centers, including the notorious Holot facility in Negev desert.

Illegal African migrants gather before their release from the Holot detention center in Negev desert in Israel, on August 25, 2015. (Photo by AFP)

Most of the African migrants in Israel are from Eritrea and war-torn Sudan, saying they fled danger at home and that it is not safe to return.

Israel considers the majority of African asylum seekers to be economic migrants and has said it has no legal obligation to keep them.

In January, Israel started the implementation of a plan to deport migrants who had entered the occupied territories, threatening to detain those who refused to leave.

The plan, initially approved by the Israeli cabinet in November, has drawn concerns from the UN refugee agency, which called it incoherent and unsafe.

Tel Aviv describes as "infiltrators" the African migrants who entered Israel from neighboring Egypt.

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