Gov’t envoy examines alternate deportation plan

58 migrants released from Negev detention facility.

A young boy stands in front of demonstrators protesting the government's deportation plan (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A young boy stands in front of demonstrators protesting the government's deportation plan
The state on Wednesday notified the High Court of Justice that the government has sent a reviewer to check another deportation option, widely reported to be Uganda, after Rwanda was eliminated as a destination to which to send African migrants.
The notification came in a legal brief following the chaotic series of government announcements about migrant policy and a request from some of the migrants to be immediately released from detention as a result of those announcements.
The state announced in a second legal briefing later in the day that it is immediately releasing 58 migrants from Saharonim, a detention facility for African migrants located in the Negev desert, close to the Sinai border. The single adult male migrants were detained on the basis of having refused to be deported to Rwanda in return for $3,500 each. They had not been offered to be deported to Uganda. It is still unclear how many more migrants may be released from Saharonim if Uganda refuses to receive them.
Also, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked announced plans to fast-track the “circumvention clause,” a bill that would add to Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty a clause allowing the Knesset to re-legislate a law that the High Court of Justice canceled.
In this case, the ministers would like to bring back the law that would send migrants to the Holot open detention facility for three years if they do not self-deport.
To that end, Shaked plans to call a meeting next week of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, which she leads, to vote on the bill and fast-track the legislative process. In the weekly meeting of coalition party leaders, Bennett plans to demand that the bill be promoted during the Knesset’s recess, which ends in a month.
According to the state’s first legal brief on Wednesday, an envoy has traveled to the country under consideration to comprehensively review whether the treatment of African migrants being deported there meets the High Court’s standard.
Explaining that until now the state had only comprehensively checked Rwanda for this issue, it said that it will update the court on Thursday about its findings, but requested that those findings be kept under seal.
Regarding the secrecy, the state admitted that the media has already named the backup option, but said that due to sensitive foreign affairs issues, it was still important to block any public recognition of the foreign country’s identity, including in court papers.
Further, the state explained that if the review found conditions to be insufficient, more asylum-seekers detained at Saharonim would be released.
Those who would be released would be those being held merely for potential deportation due to having crossed into Israel illegally, whereas those who would still be held are accused of some additional domestic crime in addition to how they entered Israel.
The state will also need to carry out supplemental hearings with some migrants who were offered deportation to Rwanda, but not to the second country.
On Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a press conference that an agreement for Rwanda to absorb migrants from Israel had fallen through, after Rwanda had succumbed to pressure, which the prime minister later blamed on the left-wing NGO the New Israel Fund and elements in the European Union.
RWANDAN OPPOSITION figures have suggested that their government’s engagement with Israel on the matter was driven by economic, military and diplomatic interests.
Justin Bahunga, a London- based representative of the United Democratic Forces of Rwanda, told Ynet that Rwanda’s conduct as a dictatorship, its military standing in the region and its need to improve its international image were what led President Paul Kagame’s government to discuss the deal with Israel.
According to unofficial reports about the deal, Israel was supposed to pay Rwanda some $5,000 for each migrant it would receive, as well as $3,500 to each migrant, which for thousands of migrants would amount to a large sum.
“People – the media, civil society, the general public and some politicians – said that it would have been a good way to strengthen diplomatic and military cooperation,” Frank Habineza, head of the Democratic Green Party, told The Jerusalem Post. “Even your prime minister announced opening up a new embassy in Kigali,” he said, pointing to the announcement made by Netanyahu last year during a meeting with Kagame.
Habineza said he had asked Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Olivier Nduhungirehe about any compensation for accepting migrants, but he denied the existence of any deal.
“Let me be clear: Rwanda will NEVER receive any African migrant who is deported against his/her will. Our “open doors” policy only applies to those who come to Rwanda voluntary, without any form of constraint,” Nduhungirehe tweeted in January in response to reports of a secret deal with Israel.
“We protested the deal to bring African migrants from Israel to Rwanda,” Habineza told the Post. “But we were later told that the government had made no deal, though all news reports insisted there was a deal. We were against the deal because we didn’t see any humanitarian side of it, because Rwanda is not economically better than Israel.
And we do not have a big land surface where it would be easier to integrate them.”
Bahunga said, “The Rwandan government desperately needs the support of Israel because those who have stood by it over the years – Britain, the United States and the European Union – are now deterred by its terrible human rights policy.”
According to Ynet, Bahunga also asserted that Rwanda’s deteriorating status in Central Africa requires allies such as Israel on the battlefield as well as in the diplomatic arena.
“Some speculate that as part of the overall deal, Israel was supposed to equip Rwanda. In recent months, there have been reports of visits to Rwanda by delegations from the defense export division of the Defense Ministry, Elbit and Israel’s military industries to promote arms deals,” he said. He also cited reports that the Kagame regime sought to recruit migrants to the Rwandan Army.
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.