In an Anne Frank-inspired initiative, hundreds of Israeli rabbis have pledged to protect African refugees who now face a deportation to their home countries as the Israeli government tightens its grips on asylum seekers.

Calling themselves as the Anne Frank Home Sanctuary, the movement hopes to hide as many as 40,000 African refugees – who either face forced expulsion from Israel or imprisonment.

In November 2017, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet approved plans to deport up to 40,000 Africans, mostly from conflict-torn countries such as Eritrea or Sudan, in a move billed as "voluntary departure". Israel is mulling to begin the two-year-long process, which attracted sharp condemnations from rights organisations and activists, in April 2018.

"Who here would be willing to house people?" asked Rabbi Susan Silverman, sister of US comedian Sarah Silverman, as she addressed a gathering of rabbis in Jerusalem. In the initiative led by the Israeli rights group Rabbis for Human Rights, Silverman is thought to be the key mind behind the initiative that refugees can now be kept hidden inside homes to avoid deportation.

"Anne Frank is the most well-known hidden person, and she was hidden so she would not be sent to her death – and we have documentation that these people are facing possible death," Silverman told the Israeli daily, Haaretz. Other synagogues across Israel and American Jews will also be drafted in to join hands for the anti-deportation movement, hopes Silverman.

"People risked their lives to save Jews, and we as a country are now saying we don't want to risk the tiniest demographic shift?" added the rights activist, who immigrated to Israel from the US a decade ago.

The Israeli government also plans to shut down the Holot detention facility, which houses illegal immigrants and asylum seekers from Africa. The Holot detention centre, an open facility in the desert, reportedly cost the Israeli exchequer about $68m (£49m) annually to maintain. Those who are sent there are allowed to leave during the day but are required to report back.

Refugees will be given an option of receiving a one-time payment of $3,500 to leave to their home country or else will be evicted from the detention centre indefinitely.

There was also speculation earlier that Israel had struck a deal with the Rwandan government to pay $5,000 for every African asylum seeker it accepts, in addition to the $3,500 grant for the deportee. But, the reported deal was later denied by Rwanda.