Israel was set to submit its response Tuesday to an appeal against its plan to deport thousands of African migrants, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a deal with Rwanda had collapsed.
After repeated delays, the state will detail its plan for dealing with the mostly Sudanese and Eritrean migrants. On Sunday, Hadashot TV news reported that the state will tell the High Court of Justice that a deal to deport the migrants to Uganda has not been nixed, despite Ugandan officials strongly denying that such an agreement exists.
A report Monday on the Ynet new site said that Israel had rewarded an unnamed country in Africa last month as part of a deal in which the country would agree to absorb thousands of migrants.
The covert agreement was, according to assessments, meant to incentivize the country and help “withstand internal political pressure” against such a step, the report said.
It was unclear whether the deal was fully completed or if it will go forward in the near future, the report added. The name of the African country, the nature of the Israeli “reward” and further details of the deal were said to be gagged.
Sunday’s Hadashot report said a special envoy from the Prime Minister’s Office visited Uganda recently and confirmed in meetings with government officials that the arrangement was still in place.
The news site said Ugandan officials had only backed away from the deal publicly, but had not canceled it.
The government is expected to also tell the court that Uganda is a safe destination for asylum seekers.
Rwanda, another “third-party country” that had reportedly agreed to accept asylum seekers from Israel, has denied the existence of any deal and said it will not take any migrants from Israel.
Last week, following a stream of rumors, Uganda’s Foreign Minister Henry Okello Oryem denied the existence of an agreement with Israel on the issue.
“We will insist that the airlines return [the asylum seekers] to the country where they came from,” he said in a statement. “We do not have a contract, any understanding, formal or informal, with Israel for them to dump their refugees here.”
Sunday’s report said 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.
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.