Don't Come to Rwanda Against Your Will, Minister Tells Asylum Seekers Facing Deportation From Israel

'Our open door policy only applies to those who come voluntarily,' Rwanda's deputy foreign minister says

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African asylum seekers protest the Israeli government's plan to deport them, at the Rwandan Embassy in Herzliya, on January 22.
African asylum seekers protest the Israeli government's plan to deport them, at the Rwandan Embassy in Herzliya, on January 22. Credit: Jack Guez/AFP
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

A Rwandan cabinet minister reiterated Wednesday that his country had made no deal to take in African asylum seekers from Israel and called on the migrants not to come to his country against their will.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel will soon begin forcibly deporting African migrants to third countries, widely reported to be Rwanda and Uganda. At interviews with immigration officials, asylum seekers have received notification stating that “Israel has signed agreements that enable you to leave to a safe third country.” The statement does not mention the countries' names but officials have suggested that one of them is Rwanda.

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“There is no such agreement," Rwandan Deputy Foreign Minister Olivier Nduhungirehe told Haaretz. "There is no such deal between Israel and Rwanda about relocating African migrants. This deal does not exist.”

He said Rwanda would not take in any person who had been forcibly sent there, even if the two countries had discussed the matter in recent years.

“Let me be clear: Rwanda will NEVER receive any African migrant who is deported against his/her will," the minister tweeted Wednesday, sharing an article in about Rwanda’s denial of a deal with Israel. "Our « open doors » policy only applies to those who come to Rwanda voluntary, without any form of constraint. Any manipulation of women, men & children in distress is appalling.”

As Nduhungirehe put it, “We don’t have any information from Israel that we have a deal. We read things in the news, but we never heard officially that they stated there’s a deal between Israel and Rwanda because there is none.

“If any government sends people to Rwanda, according to a deal that doesn’t exist, against their will, of course we will not accept them. We can’t accept anyone as part of a deal that doesn’t exist."

Asked if Israel was lying when it said it had an agreement with Rwanda, Nduhungirehe said there were talks three or four years ago about “relocating the migrants from Israel,” but “we didn’t sign or agree on a deal.”

Rwanda is “not an option, because our policy is clear. People need to come to Rwanda voluntarily and we don’t have a deal with Israel,” he said, adding that African asylum seekers had a right to demonstrate, as “they were misled to think they will be received in Rwanda as part of a deal that doesn’t exist.”

Referring to testimony by asylum seekers who were sent from Israel to Rwanda, Nduhungirehe said “I’ve heard that. It was three-four years ago. I think they were less than 20 who came individually. We received them, they wanted to work in Rwanda. When they claimed asylum, we didn’t renew their permit. They came as workers. When someone tells you they come to work in your country it’s different than asylum. It was not part of any deal. They’re saying in the media about thousands of people. It didn’t happen.”

The minister dismissed the claims by asylum seekers who had been sent to Rwanda and said that as soon as they landed at Kigali International Airport their papers were taken from them and they remained without legal status or the option to ask for legal status in Rwanda. After a few days they were driven to the Ugandan border, they said.

“That didn’t happen,” Nduhungirehe said. “I’m telling you about a few individuals. Why would we do that? For what purpose? Even in case of a deal we would receive them as part of the deal. Why would we take papers of people from Eritrea or Sudan we don’t have anything against?”

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