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Government confirms refugee deal with Israel

By Umaru Kashaka, Apollo Mubiru, Betty Amamukirori

Added 14th April 2018 12:45 PM

In January, Israel approved a plan to force asylum seekers to choose between indefinite detention or deportation to a third country in Africa.

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Minister of state for relief, disaster preparedness and refugees, Musa Ecweru. Photo/File

In January, Israel approved a plan to force asylum seekers to choose between indefinite detention or deportation to a third country in Africa.

 

After months of speculation, it has been confirmed that Uganda will take in about 500 Eritreans and Sudanese refugees from Israel.

The minister of state for relief, disaster preparedness and refugees, Musa Ecweru, confirmed the development yesterday. He, however, said in a statement that all the 500 refugees shall have to undergo a rigorous vetting process to ascertain their suitability for being granted asylum in Uganda.

In January, Israel approved a plan to force asylum seekers to choose between indefinite detention or deportation to a third country in Africa.

The migrants were given three months to leave, drawing condemnation by activists who said the Israeli’s government move would endanger people’s lives.

Israel did not specify where the asylum seekers would go, but local media and rights groups identified Rwanda and Uganda.

Last year, Sunday Vision published a story saying, close to 1,400 refugees had already been shipped to Uganda.

The paper exclusively interviewed some of the Eritrean and South Sudanese refugees who were living in Kabalagala, a city suburb who said they had been expatriated from Israel.

It was said that Uganda would benefit from military hardware and agricultural extension services in exchange for accepting Israeli refugees.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also confirmed that between December 2013 and June last year, about 4,000 Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers were deported to Rwanda and Uganda under the Israel’s voluntary departure programme. In November, the UNHCR raised alarm that those who had already been relocated through that scheme were not receiving support after leaving Israel.

However, both Rwanda and Uganda denied signing such a deal. Ecweru indicated that there were no such refugees in Uganda, but that the first batch of 500 were expected soon.

“We are a hospitable country and are willing to take them in. The ones coming are going to the settlement,” Ecweru said.

Currently, Israel is home to about 40,000 asylum seekers, according to the Government figures. That includes 27,500 Eritrean and 7,800 Sudanese asylum seekers, the UNHCR has reported.

According to the Israeli scheme, asylum seekers will be given a plane ticket and up to $3,500 for leaving.

Ecweru noted that Uganda has over the years hosted, among others, Eritrean and Sudanese refugees fleeing their country of origin, on account of persecution.

“It is important to note refugees world over, are voluntarily repatriated with strict observance and adherence to international law and in line with the international refugee conventions, protocols and treaties,” the minister said.

Foreign affairs minister Sam Kutesa, in a separate interview, confirmed that Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda on Thursday chaired a meeting to work out the modalities for the 500 refugees.

 Kutesa, however, declined to divulge the details. Meanwhile, hundreds of asylum seekers have demonstrated in Levinsky Park in south Tel Aviv against the deportation deal with Uganda.

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