Rwanda, Uganda Deny Reaching a Deal With Israel to Accept Refugees

Sudanese and Eritrean refugees in Israel were informed that they have three months to accept relocation in Rwanda or Uganda, or face prison. Government ministers of both those countries are now denying any such deal

"Slaves for sale": Protesters demonstrate against government plans to deport African refugees to a third country, December 29, 2017, Tel Aviv, Israel.
Tomer Appelbaum

The governments of Rwanda and Uganda are denying any deal with Israel to host thousands of African migrants told to leave that country in the next three months or face incarceration.

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Israel's Population and Immigration Authority this week called on migrants from Sudan and Eritrea to leave "to their country or to a third country," meaning Rwanda or Uganda. Those who leave before April will receive $3,500, airfare and other incentives.

Tens of thousands of Africans entered Israel before it erected a fence along its border with Egypt. Many of the migrants say they fled conflict and persecution and seek refugee status. Israel calls them "infiltrators" and mostly economic migrants whose numbers threaten its Jewish character.

The Israel-based Hotline for Migrant Workers, an advocacy group, has condemned the move, saying expulsions "put the refugees' lives in danger."

>>The shame of Israel's deportation of asylum seekers | Editorial <<

The UN refugee agency late last year said it was "seriously concerned" by Israeli proposals to call on Eritreans and Sudanese to accept relocation to African countries or face imprisonment. It noted a "forced relocation policy" beginning in December 2013 that already had sent about 4,000 of the migrants to two African countries "named in media reports as Rwanda and Uganda." It called the policy secretive, not transparent and difficult to monitor.

A Rwanda deputy foreign minister, Olivier Nduhungirehe, told The Associated Press his country has never reached any agreement with Israel on hosting asylum seekers. "There were negotiations like three or four years ago between the two countries but we never concluded on the matter," he said.

Rwanda is only engaged in negotiations to host some of the thousands of African migrants who face abuse in Libya, he said.

Uganda's state minister for international relations, Henry Okello Oryem, also told the AP there is no such agreement with Israel to accept African migrants from there.

"That's fake news. We don't know where that story is coming from. We don't know why it keeps coming up," he said Friday.

The UN refugee agency in November said about 27,500 Eritreans and 7,800 Sudanese were in Israel and that only eight Eritreans and two Sudanese had been recognized as refugees by authorities.