Destination Uganda for Illegal Migrants

YERUSHALAYIM (AP) -

Dozens of Africans have accepted an Israeli government offer to relocate to Uganda, an Israeli official said Wednesday, part of the state’s efforts to cope with a massive influx of illegal migrants from the continent.

The announcement came weeks after officials said an unidentified third country would soon begin to accept migrants who had gone to Israel.

The official said Israel paid $3,500 each in recent weeks to about 30 migrants who agreed to leave for Uganda. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media on the matter.

Ugandan officials denied any deal was in place. “We are not privy to such an arrangement,” said David Kazungu, a Ugandan government commissioner in charge of refugees.

Uganda has hosted hundreds of thousands of refugees over the years, often women and children fleeing outbreaks of violence in neighboring countries such as Congo and South Sudan. Uganda also has good diplomatic relations with Israel and enjoys close security ties. Israeli investments in Uganda include infrastructure development, water management and agriculture.

Uganda’s long-serving president, Yoweri Museveni, has been known to exercise close control of the country’s foreign and military policies, often taking positions and signing deals without the knowledge of senior government officials, technocrats, and even lawmakers.

If a formal or informal agreement was reached with Israel, one independent lawmaker said, it likely involved Museveni or an official very close to him.

Ugandan lawmaker Gerald Karuhanga urged Uganda’s parliament to actively investigate the allegations. “In case it is true, that would be a very unfortunate mistake, because you don’t know the kind of people you are receiving in the country,” he said.

Israel’s Interior Ministry and the prime minister’s office declined comment.