Uganda denies a deal with Israel to ‘dump their refugees here’

Joining Rwanda, African nation’s foreign minister says there was no understanding, ‘formal or informal,’ with Jewish state

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, is greeted by the Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, on his arrival in at Entebbe airport in Uganda on Monday, July 4, 2016 (AP Photo/Stephen Wandera)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, is greeted by the Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, on his arrival in at Entebbe airport in Uganda on Monday, July 4, 2016 (AP Photo/Stephen Wandera)

Uganda joined Rwanda late Tuesday in denying it had ever clinched an agreement with Israel to absorb migrants deported from the Jewish state, with the country’s foreign minister saying it wouldn’t allow Israel to “dump their refugees here.”

In similar statements, ministers from Uganda and Rwanda spoke after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled an agreement with the United Nations to resettle thousands of African migrants to Western nations. Israel had previously claimed two unnamed African countries were willing to accept the migrants, with media reports identifying the states as Rwanda and Uganda.

Uganda’s foreign minister, Henry Okello Oryem, said that if any migrants deported from Israel arrive in the East African nation “we will insist that the airlines return them 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,” he added.

Rwanda’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Olivier Nduhungirehe, also reiterated that no deal was ever signed with Israel, adding that “we have a general open policy on the refugees but our condition is that those migrants must be willing to come to Rwanda without any form of constraint.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Nduhungirehe told Israel’s Kan public broadcaster news that “there was never a deal with Israel, neither in writing, nor verbally.” He was responding to Netanyahu’s claim that Rwanda had backed out of a deal that had been in the works for two years.

In a dramatic about-face, Netanyahu declared Monday night that he was freezing a new agreement with the UN refugee agency, announced earlier in the day, that would see thousands of African migrants given temporary status in Israel and others deported to Western countries. He formally canceled it the following morning.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with Rwandan President Paul Kagame at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on January 24, 2018. (GPO)

The agreement with the UN, which was meant to replace the discarded deportation “deal” with Rwanda, was dropped amid fierce criticism from parts of the prime minister’s right-wing base.

“For the past two years I have been working with Rwanda so that it will serve as a third-party country to absorb the infiltrators expelled there, even without their consent,” the prime minister said, explaining that he had been forced to seek out a deal with the UN.

“Rwanda agreed to this and we began deporting people there,” Netanyahu continued. “In recent weeks, due to the tremendous pressure on Rwanda from the New Israel Fund and the officials in the European Union, Rwanda backed out of the agreement and refused to accept any more infiltrators from Israel.”

It was the first time any Israeli government official named Rwanda as a “third-party country,” confirming widespread reports.

The New Israel Fund denied any involvement in Rwanda’s decision to back out of the deportation deal. The European Union’s mission in Israel also addressed the accusation in a tongue-in-cheek Twitter post.

Israel’s previous deportation policy, which offered each migrant $3,500 and a plane ticket, had been condemned by Israeli activists and the UN as chaotic, poorly executed, and unsafe. Asylum seekers previously deported to Uganda and Rwanda have told The Times of Israel they faced serious danger and even imprisonment after arriving in Africa without proper documents.

The Supreme Court froze the deportations in mid-March in response to a petition.

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