The Israeli cabinet has formally approved a plan to deport as many as 40,000 Africans, mostly from conflict-torn countries like Eritrea and Sudan, to Rwanda or face jail if they choose to remain in the country.

In what has been described as a "voluntary departure", the Israeli government also plans to shut down the Holot detention facility, which houses illegal immigrants and asylum seekers from Africa.

The country plans to pay $5,000 to the Rwandan government for every African asylum seeker it accepts, in addition to the $3,500 grant for the deportee. Their one-way air-tickets will also be paid by the Israeli government. However, the exact arrangements of Israel's payment to Rwanda have not been made public, reports the Haaretz daily.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet unanimously approved the proposals on Sunday, 19 November after plans were submitted by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan in order to phase in the closure of Holot, located about a mile from the Israel-Egypt border.

Israel Population and Immigration Authority is expected to begin the deportation of the asylum seekers in the coming weeks.

"The infiltrators will have the option to be imprisoned or leave the country," read a statement from Israel's public security ministry. Women, children and victims of human trafficking are to be exempted from the crackdown. Individuals waiting for a response for the approval of their asylum claims will also be excluded.

"This removal is taking place thanks to an international agreement I reached that enables us to remove the 40,000 infiltrators remaining, remove them without their consent," Netanyahu told ministers ahead of the cabinet vote.

"This will enable us to close down Holot and allocate some of the large funds going there to inspectors and removing more people."

The Holot detention centre, an open facility in the desert, reportedly cost the Israeli exchequer about $68m annually to maintain. Those who are sent there are allowed to leave during the day but are required to report back.

Rights groups have condemned the move by the Israeli government saying that the asylum seekers are being sent back only to be persecuted again.

"Instead of turning away refugees within its territory, Israel can and should protect asylum seekers like other countries of the world, instead of imprisoning them or deporting them to continue the journey as refugees," read a statement from a coalition of human rights groups.

Ahead of the formal vote by the Israel cabinet, the UN's refugee agency had also expressed serious concerns over the government proposals.

"Due to the secrecy surrounding this policy and the lack of transparency concerning its implementation, it has been very difficult for UNHCR to follow up and systematically monitor the situation of people relocated to these African countries," said the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. "UNHCR, however, is concerned that these persons have not found adequate safety or a durable solution to their plight and that many have subsequently attempted dangerous onward movements within Africa or to Europe."