State said set to tell High Court migrant deportation deal to Uganda still on

Despite its denial, Kampala said to still be willing to accept asylum seekers; Israel also reportedly mulls sending Eritreans back home

African asylum seekers set up a mock slave auction as part of a protest outside the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv, against their deportation, on April 3, 2018. (Miriam Alster/ Flash90)
African asylum seekers set up a mock slave auction as part of a protest outside the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv, against their deportation, on April 3, 2018. (Miriam Alster/ Flash90)

The state will tell the High Court of Justice on Tuesday that its controversial deal to deport thousands of African asylum seekers to Uganda has not been nixed, despite Kampala officials denying that such an agreement exists, Hadashot news reported Sunday.

According to the report, 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 only backed away from the deal publicly, but had not cancelled it.

The government is expected to also tell the court that Uganda is a safe destination for the asylum seekers.

Rwanda, the other third-party country which had reportedly agreed to accept asylum seekers from Israel, denied the existence of any deal and said it will not take any refugees from Israel. So any promises regarding Uganda must also be taken with a grain of salt, Hadashot said. Additionally, political and legal sources told the news program that the deal with Uganda may collapse, and preparations for alternatives have been made.

Only last week, following a stream of rumors, the East African country’s Foreign Affairs 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.”

The Sunday 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 living in its country to return home.

Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin 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 the plan, amid an outcry from right-wing politicians and advocacy groups.

The agreement was designed to end the possibility of forced 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.

Asylum seekers previously deported to Uganda and Rwanda have told The Times of Israel they faced serious dangers and even imprisonment after arriving in Africa, often without proper documents.

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