Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s special emissary to Uganda is to return home early Monday morning after 11 days of trying to convince the African nation to accept deported African migrants.
Diplomatic sources, however, say the return of the special envoy — whose identity has not been revealed because of his previous senior role in the Shin Bet security service — indicates that significant obstacles still remain in achieving an agreement, the Walla news site reported Sunday evening.
On Sunday, more than 200 African migrants were released from Saharonim Prison in southern Israel by order of the Supreme Court, after the government was unable to provide a signed deal with an African country to which they could be deported.
The state informed the court that negotiations were still being held with a third country, widely reported to be Uganda.
The court ordered the government’s deportation plan suspended for an additional two weeks.
Until Friday, Uganda consistently denied that a deportation deal with Israel exists, despite reports that it was accepting migrants deported from Israel.
A senior Ugandan minister acknowledged for the first time on Friday that his country was “positively considering” a request by Israel to accept 500 African asylum seekers. In a statement released ahead of a press conference in Kampala, State Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees Musa Ecweru confirmed his country was in talks with Jerusalem to accept several hundred refugees deported from Israel.
Earlier this month, 58 migrants were freed from Saharonim after a similar reported deal with Rwanda fell through. Rwanda, another “third-party country” that had reportedly agreed to accept asylum seekers from Israel, has also denied the existence of any deal and said it will not absorb any migrants expelled from Israel.
The presence of the primarily Sudanese and Eritrean migrants in Israel has become a key political issue. Israel’s earlier deportation policy to the African countries, which offered each migrant $3,500 and a plane ticket, had been condemned by Israeli activists and the United Nations as chaotic, poorly executed, and unsafe.