By our reporter
Following a landmark ruling by Israel’s Supreme Court, Israel government is set to send more than 40,000 African asylum seekers mainly Eritrean and Sudanese nationals to an East African country.
Though the ruling, at the state’s request, never names the destination countries, they have long been known to be Uganda and Rwanda. The Supreme Court ruled On August 28, 2017.
According to Israeli media reports, Uganda will receive military hardware and agricultural aid in exchange for accepting Israel’s unwanted aliens.
Uganda government officials have denied knowledge of any deal between Uganda and Israel regarding unwanted immigrants.
The Observer quotes Obiga Kania, the minister of state for Internal Affairs, denying knowledge of deportees from Israel being dumped in Uganda. Margaret Kafeero, the head of public diplomacy, said Uganda doesn’t have an embassy in Israel, so the ministry of Foreign Affairs is in the dark about the arrangement.
Former International Affairs minister and current minister of state for Foreign Affairs Hon. Henry Okello Oryem told The East African in 2013 that “it is true Israel is looking for third host countries to take in unwanted refugees, and Uganda is one of the countries that have been approached for this purpose.”
In more recent years, Uganda has historically enjoyed warm relations with Israel and this blossomed in the early years of Idi Amin’s government before the dictator began hobnobbing with Israel’s Arab and Muslim foes. The relationship thawed during the NRM years.
Today, the Middle East country has signed deals with President Museveni’s government to transfer agricultural technology, including on irrigation, supply of arms and surveillance equipment as well as re-modelling and modernising used combat aircraft.
Haaretz first reported the policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda and Uganda in March 2015.
In 2013, Uganda reportedly signed a secret deal between Kampala and Tel Aviv, the Haaretz a leading newspaper in Israel reported, quoting Israeli Interior minister Gideon Sa’ar. The paper says that parts of the agreements were oral rather than written
The paper says, Mr Hagai Hadas, the Israeli Prime Minister’s special envoy reportedly brokered the deal with Ugandan officials, according to minister Mr Sa’ar, and that Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein approved the consent. There was no mention of specific Ugandan officials or department of government with whom the deal was negotiated.
Disclosure of Uganda’s identity follows the lifting of a gag order, which had restricted reference to the future host of unwanted persons in Israel to just an “East African country”.
Earlier, human rights organizations told court that immigrants were not safe in ‘Uganda and Rwanda’
However, the 28th August 2017 unanimous decision by an expanded panel of five justices said it wasn’t convinced that the states to which Israel sends deporteees are unsafe. Moreover, the state’s supervision of the process produced evidence to show that the treatment given the asylum seekers in these countries is satisfactory.
According to Haaretz, up to 40,000 asylum seekers are to be removed from Israel. The arrangement is that those who voluntarily accept to move to Uganda or Rwanda would receive between $1,500 (Ugx 5.4m) and $3,500 (Ugx 12.6m), according to media reports.
Uganda has been praised as having one of the most progressive refugee policies in the world. Refugees coming here are given land and are free to seek employment in the country.
South Sudanese refugees alone in Uganda recently passed the one million mark and could go to 1.3 million people by the end of this year, according to aid agencies.
According to research by Hotline and IRRI in Rwanda, most of the refugees who arrive in Rwanda [ from Israel ] are immediately smuggled over the border to Uganda. Tedros Abrahe, an Eritrean midwife who also left Israel under the “voluntary departures says that he spent just two days in Rwanda – waiting in a house near Kigali under an armed guard – before being forcibly taken to Kampala. Aljazeera reported last year.
Aljazeera spoke to some deportees from Eritrea in Kampala who said: Ugandans were more welcoming than Israelis, they said, they melted easily into the city’s large Eritrean population.
History repeating itself
This is not the first time Uganda is being considered as a possible home for people from Israel. In the early days of colonialism, Britain which was then administering the territory that had become known as Uganda offered chunks of land [the Karamoja area in present day north-eastern Uganda ] for settlement of Jews that were unwanted in Europe and were facing persecution. According to various online sources, the British Uganda Programme, as it was known, was a plan to give a portion of British East Africa to the Jewish people as a homeland.
The proposal was brought to the World Zionist Organisation’s Zionist Congress at its sixth meeting in Basel, Switzerland in 1903 where a fierce debate ensued. The African land was described as an “ante-chamber to the Holy Land”, but other groups felt that accepting the offer would make it more difficult to establish a Jewish state in Palestine.
In the end, the motion to consider the plan passed by 295 to 177 votes. The next year, a three-man delegation was sent to inspect the area and returned with a no verdict saying the place was not amenable for European settlement. In 1905, the Zionist Congress politely declined the British offer.