Israel has finalized a deal with the African country of Uganda to deport thousands of Sudanese and Eritrean migrants into its territory, it was cleared for publication on Thursday.
Over the last few months Hagai Hadas, the prime minister's envoy, has been negotiating with several African countries on similar arrangements, and recently an agreement has been finalized with the east African state.
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Several sources involved in the issue said that in return for accepting the migrants, Israel will give Uganda agricultural aid, knowledge and equipment as well as cash.
Migrants in southern Tel Aviv (Photo: Ido Erez)
On Wednesday, Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar revealed that a wide-scale deportation campaign will begin following the coming holidays.
In a discussion held in the Knesset's Internal Affairs Committee, Sa'ar said that the ministry will encourage "willing deportation," but after a set period of time their stay permits will be revoked and they will be forced out of the country.
Sa'ar stressed that the State will act against those who will not be deported willingly by strict enforcement of the migrant-employment ban.
According to the Population and Migration Authority Israel is home to 55,000 asylum seekers, 40,000 of which from Eritrea and the rest from Sudan. Most of them reside outside the detainment facilities, in which 2,000 are currently jailed.
According to the Authority, last year some 2,000-3,000 asylum-seekers left Israel "willingly."
"We hope to act in the coming weeks and months in a way which will form an additional route for migrants' leaving the country, and at the same time we'll try to reach agreements with more countries," Sa'ar said on Monday.
The Uganda deal was ratified by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who was "convinced there is no legal obstacle for the government to act according to the outline reached," the Justice Ministry's statement read.
"The AG made sure the country (Uganda) is party to the Refugee Treaty and has an asylum system which protects the relevant populations," the statement added.
The AG and the Interior Ministry's statements were received with derision by human rights organizations.
"The Interior Ministry has been talking for years about an agreement with a third-party state to sell Israel's asylum-seekers for weapons and money, and Uganda has been mentioned before. But it was revealed that Uganda is not safe, and that there's no way to ensure the well-being of those deported to it," read a joint statement issued by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the Hotline for Migrant Workers, Physicians for Human Rights, ASSAF, Amnesty International and Kav Laoved.
"Last March Israel deported an Eritrean asylum seeker to Uganda and it quickly disavowed any agreement with Israel and deported him as soon as he arrived."
The organizations added: "The current remarks on a Uganda deal remain as ambiguous as ever. The Interior Ministry does not clarify when exactly the deal will be implemented, how many people will be absorbed in the country, what status will they be accorded and what guarantees have been offered to ensure they will not be deported to their homelands.
"The aim of the statement on this vague agreement with Uganda is to reignite the debate on the issue of deportation to a third-party state in order to try and influence High Court justices through the media, not to rule on the petition to annul the anti-migrant law."
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