An Israeli court on Sunday upheld government plans to deport illegal migrants from the Ivory Coast, paving the way for the imminent expulsion of an estimated 2,000 Ivorians.
The United Nations declared Ivory Coast "a crisis state" in 2004 after years of civil unrest. But after fighting ended and economist Alassane Ouattara took over as president in 2011, Israel said it was cancelling a long-standing policy of "collective protection" for Ivorian migrants.
On Sunday, the Jerusalem District Court rejected a petition by 132 Ivorian emigres requesting that their status be restored, or that alternatively each be enabled to apply for refugee status, or given leave to stay on humanitarian grounds.
The petition argued that "based on many international reports, including recent UN reports, the situation in Ivory Coast is still dangerous," and their status should therefore not change.
But the court ruled that the new policy, based on Israeli foreign ministry evaluations, was reasonable and proportionate.
In a statement, Interior Minister Eli Yishai called the court's ruling "an important decision," but added that "the main problem is the presence of Eritreans and Sudanese, who comprise the main bulk of the infiltrators, some 50,000 people."
Yishai said that his office was waiting for evaluations by the foreign and justice ministries so that it could act to "return these infiltrators home."
Sabine Hadad, spokeswoman for the interior ministry's population and migration authority, told AFP there were approximately 2,000 Ivorians in Israel, and that their expulsion would begin in July.
Last week, Israel flew home a first plane load of 120 illegal immigrants from South Sudan who it said had agreed to be voluntarily repatriated.
Since June 10, Israel has arrested hundreds of Africans in a nationwide roundup with the aim of deporting them.
At Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that a second flight to South Sudan would leave Israel on Monday.
"Two additional planes will leave next week," he added.
Hadad said 150 South Sudanese who agreed to leave Israel voluntarily would fly directly to the capital Juba between Monday and Tuesday.
In an interview broadcast on Saturday Ivorian President Ouattara told Israel's state-owned Channel 1 television that he didn't think the Israeli government would "go to forcing people to return," because of the Jewish people's own history of displacement."
Ouattara, who visited Israel earlier in the week, said that Ivory Coast was "very sympathetic of the problems which Israel has had, and I think we have such a strong friendship that the two governments can find ways to make sure that the return of Ivorians is a positive step."
Netanyahu noted the completion of 190 kilometres (118 miles) of a security barrier along Israel's 240-kilometre (150-mile) border with the Egyptian Sinai along with tougher policy toward those caught trying to sneak across.
"The combination of these things, including fines and punishments for those who employ illegal infiltrators, I think has begun to reverse the trend, and we will solve this problem," he said of the approximately 60,000 African immigrants present in Israel.