Uganda Says Israel Gives Deported Asylum Seekers Fake Visas

Officials in the Ugandan president's office say visas Israel gives to asylum seekers on their way to Entebbe Airport 'bear no resemblance to any document our government issues'

African migrants and Israelis demonstrate in Tel Aviv against the Israeli government's policy to forcibly deport asylum seekers, April 9, 2018
JACK GUEZ/AFP

Uganda says its supposedly official documents that Israel gives departing asylum seekers are “complete fakes.” The Population, Immigration and Border Authority issues deportees documents bearing the Ugandan Interior Ministry insignia. They are not signed by anyone in the Israeli authority. Officials in the Ugandan president’s office say they are forgeries “bearing no resemblance to any document our government issues.”

At the airport, asylum seekers leaving Israel are given several documents by immigration authority officials, such as a flight ticket, a transit pass and a paper entitled “Arriving to Uganda Visa Confirmation,” which states that on arrival at Entebbe Airport, the bearer will be given an entrance visa. The document includes the passenger’s personal details and wishes him “a nice trip.”

The document bears the name and insignia of the “Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration Control,” a government agency which was part of the Ugandan Interior Ministry and is the counterpart to Israel’s immigration authority. However, the paper is unsigned and has only a blurred electronic stamp. Previous versions of this document, which were given to departing refugees as early as 2014, were signed only “George,” without a surname.

An original document presented by an Official in Ugandan president’s office, and the fake given to deportees

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Meanwhile, the Ugandan government said it is considering Israel's request that it take in hundreds of asylum seekers, a statement said Friday.

The immigration authority said in response to Haaretz’s query that this was a Uganda-issued visa that asylum seekers in Israel receive with a transit pass, issued by the Israeli immigration authority in the absence of an official Ugandan deputation in Israel.

However, officials in Uganda’s Office of the President examined the document and said it was a forgery that bears no resemblance to the country’s official documents.

“It’s a complete fraud,” an official in the office said. “The documents are forged and don’t look like Ugandan papers in any way.” The official showed Haaretz a sample Ugandan document, which looked completely different than the one the departing refugees receive.

In recorded conversations Haaretz has obtained, Robert Kanuma, an immigration official in charge of border control in Entebbe Airport, is heard denying the existence of such a document. “Nobody wrote that document. It’s forged, completely forged,” Kanuma says in the recordings. He also tries to read who signed the document, but the signature is illegible.

A boy waves the Israeli flag as African migrants and Israelis demonstrate in Tel Aviv on April 9, 2018
Jack Guez, AFP

The state told the High Court of Justice this week that the document in question is an official entry visa for the departing asylum seekers. The state said this ahead of the session on petitions against the deportations submitted on the asylum seekers’ behalf by lawyers Avigdor Feldman and Eitay Mack.

“As part of the cooperation between Israel and [Uganda] on the agreement’s implementation, all the details of the infiltrator [the state’s term for an African asylum seeker] about to be deported are passed to [Uganda],” the state contended. “Then [Uganda] sends an entry visa, with which the [asylum seeker] can enter it legally and stay there for the first few days.”

“Every infiltrator who leaves for [Uganda] receives two copies of an Israeli transit pass with his personal details,” the state said. “For 30 days everyone who arrives from Israel can ask [Uganda’s] representatives for the identity card he is entitled to. Such requests are usually granted within five days.”

The state also told the High Court that Israel and Uganda – the state referred to it as “the second third state – have an “explicit commitment by [Uganda] to take in infiltrators from Israel, whether they arrive on their own initiative or are deported there against their will.”

An official in the Ugandan president’s office denied that every asylum seeker receives a visa and an identity card on arrival.

“Uganda has an electronic border control system, by which visitors can apply for a visa. Asylum seekers who arrive without relevant papers are deported on the same plane that brought them, and high fines are imposed on the airlines. We stress again that Israel must prove it has an agreement with Uganda on this issue. The way things are now, Uganda has nothing to do with this decision,” he said.

An asylum seeker who received the document on leaving Israel said he suspected something about it was wrong from the beginning. “It looked completely fake,” he said. “Like a document produced outside Uganda, but officially signed by them.” He said he threw it away immediately after he received it at the airport, for fear of being arrested in Uganda for carrying a forged document.

This wouldn’t be the first time Israel issued allegedly false documents to asylum seekers who leave the country. Haaretz’s correspondent in Uganda interviewed deportees who said they each received a document from a man who said he was an Israeli official, who in turn said the document would enable them to cross the Ugandan border to a nearby state, such as Kenya. The document was supposedly issued by the Uganda immigration authority, which is in charge of issuing visas. But the Uganda immigration authority denied having issued those documents. Its officials said at the time that such papers are only issued to citizens or otherwise legal residents, or those who have asked for asylum in a proper way.

The people who received this paper said the man who gave it to them said he was an Israeli official – but in any case the details in the document were incorrect. It said the holder is Ugandan born, but it was given a man who was born in Eritrea. The date of birth on the paper was also wrong.

In its response, Israel’s immigration authority did not refer to the document and said only “part of the agreement is that those who leave voluntarily receive documents regulating their stay in the third state.”

Immigration authority figures show that in the past three and a half years some 1,750 people left for Uganda – 485 in 2015, 506 in 2016, and 630 in 2017. This year 128 people left for Uganda so far.

In March 2013, in a petition against an amendment to the anti-inflitration law, the state told the court that Israel had reached an agreement with a third state to transfer asylum seekers to it.