Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein recently went to Africa to meet with Rwandan and Kenyan officials, but the Justice Ministry has declined to specify the purpose of the trip, with ministry sources denying the visit was linked to Israel's ongoing attempts to deport asylum seekers back to Africa.
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Channel 1 television reported Thursday night that Weinstein met with both Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, as well as with ministers and other officials in both countries.
Over the past two years, Israel has sent thousands of African asylum seekers who entered the country illegally to Rwanda and Uganda. About a year and a half ago, Rwanda's Kagame confirmed his country had agreed to take in African asylum seekers.
Weinstein is the person who gave legal approval for the “voluntary departure” of African asylum seekers to Rwanda, and later even for their deportation to Rwanda against their will. He did this based on the Foreign Ministry’s opinion that the asylum seekers would be in no danger in Rwanda.
A Justice Ministry source said Weinstein’s African meetings were not related to the issue of asylum seekers. The ministry simply confirmed that Weinstein held working meetings in those countries and was accompanied by ministry officials.
This is Weinstein’s first visit to Africa since taking office in February 2010. Such a trip is exceedingly rare; it is especially rare for an attorney general to meet with the presidents of countries he visits.
Weinstein was accompanied by Yuval Kaplinsky, the head of the ministry’s international affairs department; Roy Schondorf, the deputy attorney general for international affairs; and Assaf Harel, Weinstein’s aide.
Weinstein did not change his position even after media reported on Rwanda’s failure to grant even the most basic rights to the asylum seekers it accepted from Israel. According to these reports, it confiscated their travel documents, denied them the right to request asylum and sent them directly to Uganda.
Earlier this month, a district court rejected a petition by human rights groups against the indefinite detention of asylum seekers who refused to go to Rwanda or Uganda.
Still, the court advised the state to postpone implementing its new deportation policy until it had improved its system for monitoring the asylum seekers’ situation after they reached these countries. In response to the petition, the state promised to expand its monitoring of how its agreements with these countries were being honored.
In June 2014, then-Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman met with Kagame in Rwanda. It is believed to have held talks with Kenya about sending asylum seekers there as well, but those talks never produced an agreement.
Rwanda and Kenya have both been markets for Israeli defense exports in the not-too-distant past. According to Israel’s reports to the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, its last deal with Kenya was in 2011 and its last deal with Rwanda was in 2008.
Overall, Israel’s arms exports to Africa have grown in recent years.