Rwanda refuses to discuss migrants with visiting Israeli lawmakers

Opposition MKs Michal Rozin and Mossi Raz turned away by Kigali officials who say they won’t be a ‘playground’ for internal Israeli politics

Meretz MK Michal Rozin (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Meretz MK Michal Rozin (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

KIGALI, Rwanda — Rwanda said Friday it wanted no part in Israel’s “internal politics,” after turning away two opposition Israeli lawmakers who wanted to discuss their country’s controversial plan to deport African migrants and asylum seekers.

The MKs said they had come to Rwanda on a “fact-finding mission” to discuss Israeli government policy to expel about 38,000 migrants, mainly Eritreans and Sudanese, who have entered the country illegally.

As the migrants could face danger or imprisonment if returned to their homelands, Israel is offering to relocate them to an unnamed third country, which aid workers say is Rwanda or Uganda.

But Rwandan authorities refused to meet with the Israeli lawmakers.

“Rwanda cannot be a playground for Israeli internal politics. We deal with governments and we only receive foreign officials that are announced and cleared by their foreign ministries,” Foreign Affairs minister Olivier Nduhungirehe told AFP.

“If any Israeli MP has any issue with his or her government about African migrants who are in Israel, he or she should deal with the Israeli government, not ours.”

The Israeli government has given the migrants an ultimatum: leave by April 1 or risk being imprisoned indefinitely.

African asylum seekers and human rights activists protest against deportation, in front of the Rwandan Embassy in Herzliya, on January 22, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Public opposition to the plan in Israel has been slow to build but has been gathering momentum in recent weeks.

“We are on a fact-finding mission to Rwanda because we want to ascertain the truth,” Michal Rozin, a lawmaker for the left-wing opposition party Meretz, told AFP.

“We sent out requests for meetings with Rwandan officials over the illegally planned deportation of Eritrean asylum seekers to Rwanda from Israel, but officials declined to meet us and we wonder why,” she said.

Both countries have denied a secret deal to take in the migrants is in place.

The UN refugee agency has said about 4,000 migrants were deported from Israel to Rwanda between 2013 and 2017.

However, only seven remain in Rwanda, according to UNHCR, with many fleeing poor conditions to neighboring countries — particularly Uganda — or heading for Europe.

Asylum seekers protesting at the Holot detention center in the southern Negev Desert of Israel, February 17, 2014. (Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)

“It is clear that once the refugees are sent to Rwanda from Israel, they are not offered the basic necessities like jobs and housing that they are promised,” said Mossi Raz, a Meretz MK and the other member of the Israeli delegation.

“That is why we insist that any deal that is in place to force their deportation to Rwanda should be immediately abandoned,” he said.

The UN has condemned Israel’s expulsion policy, which offers each migrant $3,500 (2,900 euros) and a plane ticket, as incoherent and unsafe.

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