Despite Israeli Claims, Uganda Says It Will Not Take Asylum Seekers Without Their Consent

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African asylum seekers released from Saharonim prison, April 4, 2018
African asylum seekers released from Saharonim prison, April 4, 2018Credit: Ilan Assayag

The Israeli government has claimed that conditions in Uganda allow it to receive asylum seekers, but the Ugandan government denies that it would receive any refugees or migrants sent there from Israel.

Expulsion of asylum seekers to Rwanda and Uganda was to begin on April 1. Last month the High Court of Justice temporarily froze the plan  until it rules on petitions which note that both countries have refused to accept asylum seekers deported from Israel against their will.

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"There is no special representative from the State of Israel who is in Uganda to coordinate anything," the Ugandan government said after Israel said it had sent a special envoy to examine the matter. "Israel should prove that they have sent a representative, who it is and who they are coordinating with. Uganda has no information whatsover about this representative."

The statement insisted that Uganda would not receive Afrian asylum seekers who were forcefully expelled from Israel, staing "there is absolutely no contract or any form of understanding between Uganda and Israel regarding receipt of refugees." 

Sources close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that he is considering the possibility of reopening the Holot detention facility.

Israel released 58 asylum seekers held in Sarahonim Prison on Wednsday night. According to the state's notice to the court, these were asylum seekers who were only offered deportation to Rwanda and were jailed following their refusal. They were not offered the option of deportation to Uganda.

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On Monday, the agreement for deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda was canceled. Consequently, the state told the court, there is no longer any justification for keeping the 58 people in prison for refusing to go there.

If it turns out Israel isn’t able to send asylum seekers to Uganda either, the government said, it will release the other 212 still held at Saharonim.

On Monday, Netanyahu announced Israel had reached a deal with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to assimiliate some 16,000 African asylum seekers to european countries, with the rest being deported to European countries. Following pressure from his right-wing coalition and social media outcry from his supporters, Netanyahu reneged on the deal.

In response to local and international backlash, Netanyahu claimed the New Israel Fund was guilty of sabotaging the deal with Rwanda, and ordered his coalition head to form an investigative committee onthe matter.  

Responding to Haaretz's report, Rwanda's deputy foreign minister has since responded they were unware of the NIF's existence.

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