(TOI) Israel on Wednesday began implementing a plan to force tens of thousands of African migrants out of the country by April, threatening to arrest those who stay.

“This plan will get under way today,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahusaid at the start of a cabinet meeting.

Under the programme, some 38,000 migrants who entered Israel illegally, mainly Eritreans and Sudanese, will have until the end of March to leave. Each will receive a plane ticket and $3,500 (2,900 euros) to do so.

After the deadline, this amount will decrease and those who continue to refuse to go will face arrest. Holot, an open facility in Israel’s desert south that can host 1,200 migrants who are allowed to leave to work during the day, is also set to be closed.

The plan was originally approved by the cabinet in November, drawing concern from the UN refugee agency. Wednesday’s cabinet session marked the programme’s transition from the planning stage to action, migrant aid worker Adi Drori-Avraham said.

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