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Why is Israel deporting asylum seekers to Uganda?

African illegal migrants carry their belongings following their release from the Holot Detention Centre in Israel’s Negev desert, on August 25, 2015.  Credit: MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images.

Israel is deporting Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers, even against their own will, to Uganda and Rwanda, after the former Israeli attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein ruled in favor of the initiative in 2015.

A local news daily has reported that on August 28, 2017 Israel court ruled that immigrants who refuse to be deported to Uganda or Rwanda can be detained for not more than two months.

Alon Mwesigwa of the Observer says Israeli media reports indicate that Uganda will receive military hardware and agricultural aid in exchange for accepting Israel’s “unwanted aliens”.

This website’s investigations into the matter reveal that officials across several relevant ministries in Israel, Rwanda, and Uganda all issued denials or refused repeated requests for comment on the subject.

Why the deportation?

Foreign Policy, an American news publication says for decades after its founding in 1948, Israel, which was an early signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, welcomed refugees from outside the Jewish faith.

Later in 2007, then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert echoed an Act when he granted temporary residency permits to nearly 500 Sudanese asylum-seekers.

But as the number of African migrants swelled in subsequent years, Israel’s receptiveness began to flag, Foreign Policy says.

“But Israeli authorities soon became overwhelmed. According to the Ministry of Interior, nearly 65,000 foreign nationals — the vast majority from Africa — reached Israel between 2006 and 2013. As the government struggled to accommodate the newcomers, many languished in poor and overcrowded neighborhoods in southern Tel Aviv. Dozens squatted in a park across the street from the city’s main bus station for weeks on end.” The Magazine adds.

This influx had by 2013 evoked debate among officials, as high-profile incidents dominated media coverage and fueled unease among Israelis, many of whom already fretted that refugees were taking their jobs.

No longer anyone’s responsibility

Sourced report that current Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin  Netanyahu led a drive that has since secretly pressured Eritreans and Sudanese to leave the nation.

Year-long investigations by Foreign Policy that include interviews with multiple Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers as well as people involved at various stages of the relocation process — including one person who admitted to helping coordinate illegal border crossings — reveal an opaque system of shuffling asylum-seekers from Israel, via Rwanda or Uganda, where they are no longer anyone’s responsibility.

Arrivals to Uganda, Rwanda

It begins with furtive promises by Israeli authorities of asylum and work opportunities in Rwanda and Uganda, Foreign Policy says.

But the nearly identical experiences of asylum-seekers arriving in Rwanda and Uganda, as well as their ability to bypass standard immigration channels and occasionally procure official documents from their handlers, suggests a level of government knowledge, if not direct involvement, in all three capitals.

Once the Sudanese and Eritrean asylum-seekers reach Kigali or Entebbe, they describe a remarkably similar ordeal to Foreign Policy: They meet someone who presents himself as a government agent at the airport, bypass immigration, move to a house or hotel that quickly feels like a prison, and are eventually pressured to leave the country due to lack of official documentation.

“There would be no visas. No work permits. No asylum. None of the things Israeli authorities had promised the 12 Eritreans when they had agreed to relocate to Rwanda a few weeks prior.”

The process appears designed not just to discard unwanted refugees, but to shield the Israeli, Rwandan, and Ugandan governments from any political or legal accountability, Foreign Policy says.

‘We know nothing’

Obiga Kania, the minister of state for Internal Affairs, told The Observer on Wednesday he is not aware of any deportees from Israel being dumped in Uganda.

Margaret Kafeero, the head of public diplomacy, told the same newspaper that Uganda doesn’t have an embassy in Israel, so the ministry of Foreign Affairs is in the dark about the arrangement.

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