Jan. 2 (UPI) -- The Israeli government plans to notify thousands of African migrants in the country that they must leave within three months or face imprisonment.
Migrants who do not have a refugee application pending will be given a notice -- instructing them to leave the country or face an indefinite amount of time in prison -- the next time they are obliged to appear at an interior ministry office to renew their residency permits.
"Two options only: voluntary deportation or sitting in prison," Israel's interior minister, Arye Deri, and the public security minister, Gilad Erdan said.
Israel's Population and Immigration Authority told the BBC there are 38,000 migrants who entered the country illegally including 1,420 being held in detention facilities.
The migrants will be given up to $3,500 if they leave Israel within the next 90 days and the country will begin jailing any who remain in April. Children, elderly people, and victims of slavery and human trafficking are exempt from the order.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi criticized the plan.
"The Israeli government's decision to expel 40,000 African asylum seekers is of great concern," he said. "Israel has a painful history of migration and exile. New generations must not forget that refugees do not flee out of choice but because they don't have any other choice."
Most of the migrants entered Israel by crossing through Egypt from Eritrea and Sudan seeking asylum.
The Center for Refugees and Migrants, Amnesty International Israel, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and other groups signed a letter calling for the expulsions to be stopped.
"Anyone who has a heart must oppose the expulsion of the refugees," the letter stated.
Israel's government said the relocation will be humane and voluntary and migrants will have the choice to return to their home country or a third country.
Rwanda said it could take in up to 10,000 people as part of a deal in which Israel would pay the country $5,000 per person.
"Rwanda is not a safe place. All the evidence indicates that anyone expelled from Israel to Rwanda finds himself there without status and without rights, exposed to threats, kidnappings, torture and trafficking," the letter from the activist groups said.