Rwandan Official Denies Netanyahu's Claim on the New Israel Fund Foiling Asylum Seeker Deal

Following Haaretz's report, the country's deputy foreign minister writes that he was surprised by 'the assumption that a foreign NGO can impose pressure on Rwanda'

African asylum seekers protesting their pending deportation from Israel in Tel Aviv.
JACK GUEZ/AFP

Rwanda's deputy foreign minister, Olivier Nduhungirehe, tweeted Wednesday that he was surprised by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's statement Tuesday in which he accused the New Israel Fund, a U.S.-based nonprofit human rights group, of being a major influencing factor on the decision by the Rwandan government to pull out of a previous agreement with Israel to absorb asylum seekers.

In a tweet on his official handle, Nduhungirehe stated that Rwanda was previously unaware that New Israel Fund even existed, and that therefore it did not have any contacts with the group whatsoever.

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"I am extremely surprised by this statement," he wrote, following the report on Haaretz.

"My surprise comes less from the fact that Rwanda doesn't even know what this New Israel Fund is all about, but more from the assumption that a foreign NGO can successfully impose any pressure on a sovereign government named Rwanda," he continued in a jab aimed at the Israeli premier after the latter stated that the group applied European pressure on Rwanda to foil the deal.

The New Israel Fund also refuted Netanyahu's claims Tuesday, stating that he had "crossed every single red line" and that "The fund did not have any contacts with the government of Rwanda. All the information about the New Israel Fund's activity and organizations is accessible, transparent and reported."

<< Behind the scenes: How Netanyahu's political base killed the asylum seeker deal>>

Earlier Wednesday, the government released 58 asylum seekers from prison who had been jailed for refusing to be deported to Rwanda.

In a submission to the High Court of Justice, the state said these 58, who were held at Saharonim Prison, were offered a choice of deportation to Rwanda only and were jailed when they refused. They were not offered the choice of deportation to Uganda.

But on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the agreement with Rwanda had been canceled, meaning that deporting asylum seekers to that African country was no longer an option. Consequently, the state told the court, there is no longer any justification for keeping them in prison for refusing to go there.

A new agreement forged with the UN refugee agency to resettle the asylum seekers in Western countries was short-lived, with the prime minister nixing it less than 24 hours after it was formed.