Despite Ugandan denials, deportation plan still on, state tells court
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Despite Ugandan denials, deportation plan still on, state tells court

State says unnamed African country will accept thousands of asylum seekers though agreement with Rwanda is off, asks for more time

Hundreds of asylum seekers demonstrate in Levinsky Park in south Tel Aviv against the deportation deal with Uganda on April 8, 2018. (Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)
Hundreds of asylum seekers demonstrate in Levinsky Park in south Tel Aviv against the deportation deal with Uganda on April 8, 2018. (Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)

Israel still plans to deport African asylum seekers to an unnamed “third-party country” in Africa, the state told the High Court of Justice on Tuesday, adding that there was a “high probability” it would be able to meet the court’s requirements for deportations.

The country that could accept Israel’s asylum seekers was not named, though it is apparently Uganda. According to the response to the court submitted on Tuesday, the unnamed country was already approved by Israel’s attorney general as a destination for asylum seekers who agree to leave Israel with a $3,500 grant and a plane ticket.

Since 2015, 1,749 asylum seekers went to the unnamed country, including 128 in 2018, the state said, citing statistics that are consistent with the number of asylum seekers deported to Uganda.

Uganda has consistently denied that such a deal with Israel was in place, though there are reports that the government there has only backed away from the deal publicly without canceling it outright.

“We will insist that the airlines return [the asylum seekers] to the country where they came from,” Uganda’s Foreign Minister Henry Okello Oryem said in a statement last week. “We do not have a contract, any understanding, formal or informal, with Israel for them to dump their refugees here.”

Previously, Israel had negotiated with both Rwanda and Uganda to accept around 14,000 of Israel’s asylum seekers. But talks with Rwanda fell apart after the country refused to accept asylum seekers who left Israel against their will and balked at the requirement that Israeli officials follow up with asylum seekers deported there.

Israel has canceled the deal with Rwanda, according to Tuesday’s court document.

Asylum seekers previously deported to Uganda and Rwanda have told The Times of Israel they faced serious danger and even imprisonment after arriving in Africa without proper documents, and were not allowed to stay but forced to cross the border illegally to other countries.

The state on Tuesday also asked for more time to continue negotiating with the third-party African country to finalize details of the deal.

In March, the state temporarily froze deportations in order to allow time to debate a petition submitted by attorney Eitay Mack on behalf of 119 Israeli activists opposed to the plan.

On Sunday, Hadashot news reported that Israel was also mulling the possibility of sending Eritrean asylum seekers back to their home country, despite its poor human rights record, in keeping with a recent ruling from a Swiss court that determined that it was safe for several thousand Eritreans seeking asylum in Switzerland to return home.

Hundreds of asylum seekers and Israeli activists demonstrated in front of the Ugandan embassy in Herzliya on Tuesday morning and in south Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Park on Tuesday evening. Parallel protests were held at Ugandan embassies in half a dozen cities around the world including Berlin and New York.

Last week, Netanyahu announced he was canceling a new agreement with the UN’s refugee agency that would have seen thousands of African migrants resettled in Western nations and thousands more given temporary status in Israel. The prime minister froze the deal mere hours after announcing it, following an outcry from right-wing politicians and advocacy groups.

The agreement was designed to end the possibility of deportations of thousands of migrants from Israel to Rwanda and Uganda. Under the agreement, a minimum of 16,250 migrants would have instead been resettled in Western nations.

In return, Israel would have granted temporary residency to an equal number of migrants.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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