Rwanda Denies Deal With Israel to Accept Migrants

An African laborer rides a bike carrying fabric along a main street in South Tel Aviv in 2002. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Rwanda on Tuesday denied that it was the country that Israel had made a deal with to accept African migrants seeking asylum. According to messages on social media from the official account of the Rwandan government, the deal between Israel and Rwanda for the latter to accept deported migrants is just a “rumor,” and there is no official arrangement. Nevertheless, Rwanda is open to accepting migrants seeking asylum if they reach the country.

A law that allows the government to deport illegal African migrants against their will was approved on its second and third Knesset vote in December. As a result, Israel will be able to transport large numbers of illegal migrants to an African country willing to accept them, where their claims for refugee status can be decided. The vote came after a recent High Court decision that said that as long as the law ensured that the migrants could continue to seek relief as refugees, those claims did not have to be processed in Israel.

In order to implement the law, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in recent months signed a deal with an African country to accept the illegal migrants who have infiltrated Israel in recent years. Until that deal was signed, the only option for removing the migrants was to offer them thousands of dollars in cash and benefits to persuade them to emigrate. Those who refused the deal were sent to the Holot detention facility in southern Israel, but the High Court ruled that the government could not forcibly detain the migrants there.

In recent days there have been many protests against the planned deportation of the migrants. Hundreds of authors, doctors, university professors and others have signed petitions demanding that the government not sent the migrants to Africa.

On Monday, 51 school principals sent a letter to PM Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett demanding that the Africans be allowed to remain, lest they face “suffering and death” when they are sent abroad. Also Monday three El Al pilots said that they would not fly planes with deported migrants aboard.

Most of the migrants have claimed political asylum, saying they cannot go back to their countries of origin – mostly South Sudan and Eritrea – lest they face torture for their political beliefs. Under international law, Israel cannot deport political refugees back to their own country, but they do need to be certified as refugees by Israeli authorities.

The government contends that most of the migrants are here to work, not for political asylum, but with a backlog of years in cases to decide whether claims of political asylum are accurate, the illegals effectively are able to stay and work in Israel without a decision being made on their status. However, with the new deal, the migrants’ cases can be adjudicated while they live and work in Rwanda.

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