Uganda denies striking deal to absorb African migrants from Israel

African nation denies it will take thousands of Eritrean, Sudanese deportees.

August 30, 2013 11:53
2 minute read.
Eritrean migrants: Illustratory

Eritrean migrants living in Tel Aviv 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

The Ugandan government denied on Friday that it would accept thousands of African migrants deported from Israel after Israeli officials said they would soon send these people back to the African continent via Uganda.

"We're not aware of any such deal. There's no way Uganda would enter such an arrangement," Foreign Ministry spokesman Elly Kamahungye said.

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On Wednesday, Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar had announced that Israel had finalized an agreement with an unnamed African country and that deportations would begin after the High Holy Days. The country was revealed to be Uganda on Thursday after he military censor lifted a gag order.

Sa'ar made his announcement at a meeting of the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee, and said that Eritrean and Sudanese migrants would be given a grace period to leave voluntarily, after which they will face punitive measures, including the cancellation of residency permits and penalties against them and their employers.

Sa’ar, on Thursday night, touted his efforts to stem illegal migration from Africa, saying that “someone who crosses the border illegally goes to a detainment facility, not the fast track to Tel Aviv or Eilat.”

According to Sa’ar, migrants “are not refugees. Everyone who requests refugee status must go through me, but over 90 percent don’t even apply.

This is purely economic migration, because the quality of life is much higher here than in Africa.”

Although the process is complex and will take a long time, Sa’ar promised the illegal migration will end.

“We are humanitarians, we follow international law, but we are also committed to protecting Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,” he said at a pre-Rosh Hashana event in Tel Aviv with party activists.

On Thursday, a joint statement was issued by a number of Israeli human rights organizations, including the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the Hotline for Migrant Workers, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, ASAF, Amnesty Israel and others.

According to the statement, “For years, the [Interior Ministry] has been talking about a third country that will take the asylum-seekers from Israel in exchange for arms and money, and even Uganda was previously mentioned. But it turned out that Uganda is no longer a safe country and that there is no way to ensure the safety of those deported to it.”

The human rights organizations said the announcement of the deal with Uganda is intended “to pressure asylum- seekers in Israel into asking to leave Israel in any way they find, even if it means risking their lives.”

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