The government of Rwanda has denied again signing a secret agreement to take in Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers deported from Israel.
Israel announced the agreement with Rwanda in November after the approval of an amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law, which determined African illegal immigrants and asylum seekers will either be deported to Rwanda or imprisoned.
"In reference to the rumors that have been recently spread in the media, the Government of Rwanda wishes to inform that it has never signed any secret deal with Israel regarding the relocation of African migrants," a statement from the Rwandan government said on Monday, after some 2,000 asylum seekers protested outside its embassy in Israel.
"In this regard, Rwanda’s policy vis-à-vis Africans in need of a home, temporary or permanent, within our country's means, remains 'open doors.'"
The government of Rwanda further reiterated its "firm determination to contribute, as much as possible, to the issue of men, women and children who find themselves on the treacherous road of exile."
"Rwanda is ready to help in whatever limited way it can, by welcoming anyone arriving at its borders in need of a home, voluntarily and without any constraint," the government added.
Three weeks ago, Rwanda's Deputy Foreign Minister Olivier Nduhungirehe told The Associated Press his country has never reached any agreement with Israel on hosting asylum seekers. Uganda issued a similar denial.
In the wake of the Rwandan government's latest denial, Zionist Union MK Eyal Ben-Reuven told Ynet he intends to submit a request for an urgent Knesset discussion on the topic.
"I wonder who's lying here," he said. "Unfortunately, I believe the liars are probably on our side. If that is the case, I will demand to stop the expulsion that … severely harms those being expelled and the values of the Israeli society."
Joint List MK Dov Khenin charged that "(Prime Minister) Netanyahu's web of lies is being exposed. There really isn't an examination of asylum requests, and there isn't really a safe destination for deportation. There is no real solution to the distress of south Tel Aviv's residents."
He lamented the fact that the Israeli government "wants to put in mortal peril people who sought asylum here, even though their requests were not truly examined" and called to "stop this inhumane, amoral and illegal move."
The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants and the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel said in response, "We're happy to see that Rwanda is unwilling to cooperate with Israel's strange policy. In light of repeated denials from Rwanda and Uganda, it is time the government provides clear answers and explains where it intends to expel refugees. Israel is the only country sending refugees away by force under covert agreements done in the shadows."
The "Stop the Expulsion" movement said that "the statement released by the Rwandan government proves more than anything else that the Israeli government's promises to ensure the well-being of those being expelled are empty. This will lead to the deaths of thousands of people. It's not too late yet for the Israeli government to take back its decision and reexamine the situation."
Doctors oppose expulsion
The Israeli government's plan to encourage "voluntary departure" by offering African refugees $3,500 to leave and then deport or imprison anyone who fails to comply by April has been met with fierce opposition.
Some 400 medical personnel—about 300 of them doctors—have signed a letter addressed to the director of the Population and Immigration Authority, Shlomo Mor-Yosef, in which they protest the expulsion plan.
The doctors, including hospital department heads, said the expulsion constitutes "a violation of the Hippocratic Oath."
"As doctors, caregivers and health professionals, we cannot stand idly by while the lives, bodies and souls of our patients are at stake. Our silence is tantamount to complicity with ones of the most grievous wounds humanity has ever seen," the doctors wrote.
The doctors call on the government to cancel the expulsion and find a humane solution that will allow the asylum seekers their rights to safety and dignity.
"Being committed to the commandment: cause no harm, we are horrified by the very thought that instead of serving as a place of refuge to these victims who fled genocide, torture, violence and rape, we are perpetuating the continuation of evil," wrote the doctors.
They added: "None of them are afforded protection and there is no obligation to examine the asylum seeker's condition to ensure that he has continued and appropriate treatment in Rwanda."
The doctors also note that many of the asylum seekers are being treated in their hospitals and clinics and the expulsion decision impairs their ability to treat them.
"We try to treat them to the best of our ability and take note of their difficult life stories. This fact does not allow us to remain silent in the face of the decision to expel them, a decision that has the potential to lay waste to our efforts to heal them," they wrote.
Among the signatories are the former Director of the Health Ministry Dr Eitan Chai; Director of Wolfson Medical Center and the former Assistant Director of the Health Ministry Dr Yitzhok Berlovich; Assistant Director of Shiva Medical Center Prof. Rafi Walden; The Director of Oncology at Shiva, Prof. Bela Kaufman; and dozens of other senior medical professionals.
Joining them are hundreds of doctors, nurses, medical laboratory and radiology technicians and social workers.
Doctors for Human Rights, the initiators of the letter, said: "Since Sunday, when we publicized the letter and called on doctors and medical professionals to join the protest against the expulsion, we have been swamped with inquiries. Many do not suffice with a signature alone but express a desire to participate in additional activities and want to shout in the name of the asylum seekers 'I oppose the expulsion!'"
Holocaust survivors: We will hide refugees in our homes if needed
"We preach morals to the whole world regarding the Holocaust, justifiably, but what about ourselves?" asked Chaim Roet, 85, a Holocaust survivor, economist and social activist who organized a group of Holocaust survivors opposing the expulsion of asylum seekers. "I survived because of people who agreed to shelter me."
He says we should be bothered by the fact that "Hundreds of thousands of Jews went to Auschwitz because no country agreed to absorb them."
Roet was born in Amsterdam and when he was 10, his family was sent to the ghetto. Of his large family, only a few survived, most perished at Auschwitz.
Roet and other Holocaust survivors strongly oppose the government's decision and compare being sent to Rwanda to being sent to Ukraine. Sadly, they say, we are committing the same acts which were committed to us.
When asked whether she would hide refugees in her home, Ilana Druker, an 80 year old survivor also from Holland, answered "Yes, but I am upset by the comparison with Anne Frank. (Unlike Frank) I am not facing death or endangering my family if I hide a refugee."
Activists petition Supreme Court
Nineteen human rights activists submitted a petition to the Supreme Court to freeze the decision the government says it signed with Rwanda, Tuesday. They are asking that the court halt proceedings until the Knesset works out pertinent legislation.
The petition, initiated by Sigal Kook Avivi, Yael Agur and Gilaad Lieberman is directed at the Prime Minister, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Interior Minister Arye Deri, and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. The court ordered the state to respond by Thursday.
The petition argues that the ministers have no right to formulate such an unprecedented agreement which they see as an irremovable moral blemish and that only the Knesset is authorized to decide such matters.
They claim that the monetary payments made to Rwanda mean that every citizen, including those opposing the expulsion, becomes an accomplice to the act and an unwilling supporter to the Rwandan dictatorship, and argue that "if it is indeed true, as the Rwandan government asserts, that there is no agreement in place, then on what legal grounds can the asylum seekers turn to the Rwandan justice system? They will be considered infiltrators over there as they are over here by the government."
In response to Rwanda's denial of the agreement, the Refugee Rights Clinic of Tel Aviv University sent a letter to the Prime Minister asking that he halt the implementation of the agreement, or at least, to publicize it.
"When Rwanda is officially denying the agreement, there are no grounds to say that their rights will be protected or that the government there will protect them or allow them to work. We demand that the government publicize the agreement or stop the expulsion," said Adv. Tal Steiner of the Legal Center for the Refugees Hotline.