Israel to Deport LGBT Asylum Seekers to Rwanda, Uganda Despite Likely Persecution

Although gays and lesbians are persecuted by their countrymen in Israel, their situation is much better than what they can expect in Uganda or Rwanda

A protest against deportation in Tel Aviv, February 2018
Tomer Appelbaum

Israel intends to deport LGBT asylum seekers to Rwanda and Uganda, even though the governments of both countries are likely to persecute them for their sexual orientation or gender identities.

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The Population, Immigration and Border Authority recently rejected a request that this community be added to the categories of people who can’t be deported, such as women and children.

Though asylum seekers can raise their sexual orientation or gender identity as an argument against deportation in their pre-deportation hearings it is unlikely to be accepted – Israel has previously refused to accept LGBT identity as grounds for receiving refugee status.

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In January, the refugee aid organization HIAS and the Israeli nonprofit Aguda - LGBT Task Force asked both the Interior Ministry and the Justice Ministry to protect LGBT individuals from deportation, but both rejected this request. The Justice Ministry said the existing mechanism of pre-deportation hearings “provides a suitable solution under the circumstances to the fears that have been raised.”

Since 2015, the LGBT Task Force has handled the cases of about 30 LGBT asylum seekers but it believes there are many, possibly even hundreds, more. It’s hard to estimate their numbers accurately since many fear being exposed as gay or lesbian within their own communities, where they are likely to encounter prejudice.

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Task Force officials said many LGBT asylum seekers are marginalized by their countrymen in Israel and suffer persecution, harassment and exploitation from fellow asylum seekers. They generally lead lonely lives and are frequently pushed into prosecution for lack of any other way to earn a living.

Yet even so, their situation in Israel is much better than what they can expect in Uganda or Rwanda, as attorney Yonatan Berman wrote in a 2016 article. He quoted the asylum application of one African asylum seeker who said he was violently assaulted and raped in his country of origin because of his sexual identity, yet received no protection from the police and lived in constant fear of violence from the authorities. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees recommend that Israel recognize him as a refugee, but the Interior Ministry’s advisory committee on refugees refused to do so.

“Our position is that sexual orientation isn’t protected by the convention, and this is an unjustified expansion of the convention,” said attorney Sara Shaul, the ministry’s representative on the panel, referring to the UN Refugee Convention.

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Many Western countries have recognized LGBT individuals, including citizens of Uganda, as refugees on the grounds that they had a justified fear of persecution in their own countries. But Israel is now proposing to send LGBT individuals to Uganda, which is considered one of the most dangerous places in the world for them, in part due to laws that greatly restrict their freedom, including one punishing gay sex by life in prison.

Though homosexuality isn’t illegal in Rwanda, members of the LGBT community don’t have equal rights and face harassment by the authorities, including verbal and physical violence, extortion by soldiers, arbitrary arrest by the police and discrimination in housing, employment and education.