Israel issuing ‘fake’ visas to migrants deported to Uganda — report
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Israel issuing ‘fake’ visas to migrants deported to Uganda — report

Document granted at Ben Gurion Airport say it permits entry to African country, but Entebbe reportedly says it is ‘a complete fraud’

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)

The visas issued by Israel, purportedly on behalf of Uganda, to African asylum-seekers as they are about to leave the country are “totally fake,” according to a report on Friday.

The allegedly fraudulent documents were presented by the state to the High Court of Justice in defense of its plan to deport the migrants in Israel — most of them from Sudan and Eritrea — to third-party countries, the Haaretz newspaper reported.

The government has until 12 p.m. on Sunday, April 15, to present the High Court of Justice with a finalized plan for the deportation of African migrants.

According to the report, Ugandan immigration officials shown the document said it was “a complete fraud.” Officials supplied the paper with a sample of the authentic Ugandan document, which looks nothing like the form issued at Ben Gurion Airport to departing African migrants.

The Population and Immigration Authority told Haaretz the document was a visa issued by the Ugandan government. Israel supplies the migrants who voluntarily leave the country with the document because there is no official Ugandan representative in Israel, the immigration office said.

However, the Israeli-issued document is not signed by any official, and bears only an illegible electronic signature. Earlier versions of the document, issued in 2014, were simply signed with the first name “George.”

The document issued in Israel is headed, “Arrival to Uganda – Visa Confirmation.” It states that upon arrival at Entebbe airport a proper entry visa will be issued for the passenger along with an identity card.

Robert Kanuma, the principal immigration officer in charge of Entebbe airport, denied the claim.

“No one wrote this document, it’s fake, totally fake,” Kanuma told Haaretz.

According to the report, the government plans to use this visa document to show the court it has a deportation plan and that Uganda has agreed to accept the refugees.

But the Office of the President of Uganda denied the existence of a document that would guarantee entry to the country.

“It is not true that every asylum seeker receives a visa and an ID card when he arrives,” a source told Haaretz. “Uganda has an electronic border management system where visitors can apply for a visa and present the relevant documents at any entry point. None of that happened in this case.

“We again stress that it is up to the Israeli government to prove that it has a contract with Uganda on this issue, and as of now, Uganda has nothing to do with this decision,” the source at the president’s office said.

Uganda has consistently denied that a deportation deal with Israel exists. Some reports, however, say that Uganda has only backed away from the deal publicly without canceling it outright. Israel has declined to officially name the countries involved in negotiations.

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

Israel’s previous expulsion plans were based on “voluntary deportations,” meaning asylum seekers would sign a document stating they had left Israel by choice, and receive a $3,500 grant and a plane ticket to Rwanda or Uganda. About 1,700 asylum seekers were “willingly deported” to Uganda in the past three years, but the government wants future deportations to take place much faster, at the rate of around 600 per month, rather than 600 per year. For this to happen, it needs a country that will accept asylum seekers who were forcibly deported, a stance that is unpopular in the international community.

Forced deportations to a third country are largely unprecedented in the Western world. Italy and Australia signed similar agreements with third-party countries — Italy with Libya, and Australia with Malaysia — but both proposals were shot down by local courts. In both cases, courts ruled the bills inconsistent with international law and the 1951 UN convention on refugees — to which Israel is also a party.

There are approximately 38,000 African asylum seekers in Israel, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan. The Population Authority has said that women, children, and married men would not be in danger of deportation. Single men account for approximately half of the asylum seeker population in Israel.

Asylum seekers who were “willingly deported” to Uganda and Rwanda in the past 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 in Rwanda but forced to cross the border illegally to other countries.

Talks with Rwanda faltered and officially fell apart after the country refused to accept asylum seekers whom Israel deported against their will. Rwandan officials also balked at the court requirement that Israeli officials follow up with asylum seekers deported there.

Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced, then almost immediately canceled, a deal with the United Nations High Commission on Refugees to resettle approximately 16,250 asylum seekers in Western countries and give status and rights to an equal number of asylum seekers to stay in Israel.

Melanie Lidman contributed to this report.

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