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Rwanda, Uganda deny deal with Israel to take in asylum seekers

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Migrant workers

CHILDREN OF migrant workers play on a Tel Aviv beach on Independence Day, marking the 65th anniversary of the creation of the state last year.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Rwanda and Uganda have both denied that they have signed an agreement with Israel to accept African migrants from the country, despite much publicity from the Israeli government.

Uganda’s Foreign Minister Henry Okello Oryem on Thursday told AFP that it had “no such agreement with the government of Israel to send refugees here.”

Olivier Nduhungirehe, Rwanda’s Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, denied on Friday that his country has signed a deal to accept asylum seekers that Israel hopes to remove from inside its borders.

On Twitter, Nduhungirehe rebutted a Guardian article about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to pay Rwanda and neighbor Ugana to accept the migrants, saying: “#Rwanda has no deal whatsoever with #Israel to host any African migrant from that country. This story is no news; it’s FAKE NEWS.”

According to an Eritrean daily, Rwanda had denied the deal as early as a month ago, although Israeli politicians continued to publicize the plan, pushing through legislation to make it official.

Interior Minister Arye Deri said earlier this week that Israel is “embarking on a big operation of infiltrating the infiltrators into a third country,” referring to Rwanda and Uganda. According to Israeli politicians, an agreement is in place for the two African nations to accept $5,000 per asylum-seeker that they accept. The plan for doing so was approved by the cabinet on Wednesday.

Those who are not immediately deported will be imprisoned within 90 days, and  those who choose to leave “voluntarily” have been offered $3,500 and free airfare from the government.

Earlier this week, Netanyahu boasted that zero “infiltrators” had entered the country in 2017. The government currently counts approximately 35,000 refugees in the country as “infiltrators,” in part because they do not have official refugee status.

The government received nearly 18,000 applications for asylum status from various foreigners in 2017 – only 2,550 of which came from Eritreans or Sudanese – but rejected or refused to review nearly all of them.

Non-governmental organizations have come out against the country’s plan to deport or imprison migrants. In a joint letter,  the Center for Refugees and Migrants, Amnesty International Israel, the Association for Assistance to Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Physicians for Human Rights and the African Refugee Development Center said that “anyone with a heart must oppose the expulsion of refugees.”

JTA and Daniel Eisenbud contributed to this report.

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