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Israel: 3 pilots say they won’t fly deported asylum seekers to Uganda, Rwanda

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in a 2011 meeting in Jerusalem on increasing cooperation between the two countries. Credit: Avi Ohayon, GPO

Three Israeli pilots have publicly announced their refusal to participate in the government’s mass deportation of African asylum seekers by not flying them to Rwanda or Uganda following the passing of a controversial legislation authorizing their expulsions last month.

According to Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, Rwanda and Uganda are both reportedly ‘third countries’ to which the Israeli government, through the State Prosecutor’s Office, announced to deport some 35,000 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers who entered Israel illegally since the 2000s – a report the Ugandan government denies.

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“There is no way that I, as an air crew member, will take part in flying refugees/asylum seekers on their way to a destination whose chances of survival after reaching it… are close to zero,” wrote pilot Shaul Betzer in a Facebook post and later on Twitter.

Pilot Iddo Elad posted a statement on his Facebook page a few hours later, declaring: “I will not be a partner to this barbarity.”

The Independent – UK on Tuesday reported that both Facebook posts have been shared hundreds of times and attracted many comments, most of which support the men’s stance.

The Haaretz newspaper, however wrote that the announcement by the pilots is mostly symbolic as El Al – the Airline company to which the trio belongs – does not fly directly to Rwanda or Uganda, and deported migrants usually fly on other airlines through Ethiopia or Jordan.

“El Al does not fly any immigrants to Africa,” a spokesperson for El Al told The Independent – UK.

“El Al has absolutely nothing at all to do with these flights. El Al pilots won’t be flying these immigrants.”

The airline does however have a code share agreement with Ethiopian Airlines, allowing passengers to book flights via El Al’s website from Tel Aviv to destinations across sub-Saharan Africa with a stop-off in Addis Ababa.

Thousands of Africans crossed from Egypt into Israel before it erected a fence along the border in 2013.

Many have fled conflict and persecution,  but Israel’s leader Benjamin Netanyahu called them “infiltrators” and said they are mostly economic migrants whose numbers threaten the nation’s Jewish character, reported The Independent – UK.

According to Israeli charity Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, an average of just 0.15 per cent of people who file asylum claims in Israel are ultimately recognised as refugees.

Under the new proposals, “infiltrators” were in December offered $3,500 (£2,500) and a plane ticket  to leave the country within three months or face prison.

By Paul W Dennis.

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