South Sudanese President Salva Kiir is set to arrive in Israel on Tuesday for an under-the-radar visit with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Netanyahu and Kiir, whose country declared its independence in July, plan to discuss solutions for illegal immigrants from Africa, in a meeting that is expected to be closed to the press. Sources say Netanyahu will ask Kiir to accept as many Sudanese nationals as possible, whom Israel will fly to the new African country.
The visit, however, is not expected to focus only on illegal workers. It comes at a time when Israel, amid sweeping changes in the region, is looking to strengthen its ties with sub-Saharan Africa.
Kiir’s visit comes two months after the leaders of two other countries, Uganda and Kenya, visited Jerusalem. It also comes as Netanyahu is planning a visit to sub-Saharan Africa in February. He is expected to visit Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya, although the final schedule has not yet been finalized.
There was some talk of Netanyahu visiting South Sudan, but security considerations may make that stop impossible. The African countries to which Israel is reaching out face significant challenges from radical Islamic terrorists.
Israel recognized South Sudan a day after it declared independence in July, with Netanyahu calling Kiir and offering Jerusalem’s expertise in developing the fledgling country’s infrastructure, communications network and agriculture.
The South Sudanese leader also plans to meet with President Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
Kiir is expected to visit Yad Vashem with MK Danny Danon (Likud), who expressed confidence on Monday that Kiir and Netanyahu would find a solution for the “Sudanese infiltrator problem.”
Danon, who visited Kiir in South Sudan in August, also posited that if Israel returned many of the thousands of Sudanese illegal immigrants to South Sudan, they would help build and strengthen the new country.
Earlier Monday, the Knesset Interior Affairs Committee approved the Bill to Prevent Infiltration, part of Netanyahu’s plan to find solutions for illegal immigrants, for its second and third (final) votes in the Knesset. The votes are expected to take place next week.
While some illegal immigrants can be expelled from the country immediately, those from Sudan and Eritrea cannot be, according to UN guidelines. Therefore, the bill will allow the state to hold in custody those it cannot eject from Israel for over three years.
Interior Committee chairman Amnon Cohen (Shas) said the bill sought to find a balance between treating illegal immigrants humanely and dealing with the phenomenon’s effect on the country.
Population, Immigration and Border Authority director Amnon Ben-Ami said the government was undertaking three main actions in response to illegal immigration. First, a fence was being built along the southern border. It is expected to be completed by October 2012. In addition, the government has been negotiating the transfer of illegal immigrants to other countries. Finally, laws against employing illegal immigrants are being enforced more stringently.
At the same time, Ben-Ami said, the government will provide the illegal immigrants with shelter and food.
Additionally, the law’s explanatory section mentions Israel’s commitment to the UN Convention on Refugees.