TEL AVIV, Israel, May 14 (UPI) -- The Israeli government appears to be serious about sending perhaps more than 50,000 African refugees out of the country.
The immigrants have largely come from Sudan and Eritrea over the last 10 years, but the Israeli government is now taking action to ship them out, The Washington Post reported Thursday.
Israeli officials will soon send letters to the immigrants offering a choice: $3,500 plus a one-way ticket to another destination, or stay and live behind bars. The immigrants have 30 days to make up their mind.
Some critics have accused Israel of hypocrisy, saying a nation that was founded by refugees fleeing war and poverty should be more gracious to others in the same predicament.
A mass exodus of refugees from various nations has marked recent times. On Wednesday, the Malaysian government announced it would no longer take refugees from Myanmar, who are crowding rickety boats to get there. Indonesia has also made such a declaration.
On Monday, the European Union started a push to gain U.N. authorization for military force in the Mediterranean Sea to crack down on immigrant-smuggling boats.
Fear among refugees is also rising. Many were shocked last month by a new video purportedly showing three Eritreans being executed by Islamic State terrorists in Libya. The three Eritreans were captured after they left Israel, the Post report said.
"We saw the video, but we thought maybe it wasn't true, maybe it was just a hoax," Eritrean refugee Aman Beyene, who lives in an Israeli detention camp, said. "Then we spoke to an Eritrean boy who had witnessed the killings, and we knew it was true."
Israeli leaders say their tough approach might actually save refugee lives in the end, as they may not even attempt to make the trip -- during which immigrants often succumb to illness or physical injury.
Immigrants from Africa started to enter Israel a decade ago, and government officials ultimately built a wall to stem the flow across their borders.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2012 called the immigrants "a threat to the social fabric of our society, our national security, our national identity ... our existence as a Jewish and democratic state." A member of Parliament called them "a cancer in our body."