Kampala denies Israel refugee deal
By PAUL REDFERN, Special Correspondent
As Uganda continues to deny that it has signed a deal with Israel to take in thousands of unwanted Eritrean and Sudanese migrants from the Jewish state, it has been revealed that Kampala stood to gain from increased military aid in the agreement.
Uganda was singled out as the destination for tens of thousands of African migrants living in Israel, after a gag order was lifted last week (August 29) in response to a request by Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper. However, while acknowledging that a deal was reached with Uganda, Israeli officials insist it will only apply to some of the 55,000 Sudanese and Eritreans currently in the country.
According to the arrangement, Uganda will either accept the migrants, or serve as a transit station to their own countries. The Ugandan government has continued to deny the agreement.
“We’re not aware of any such deal. There’s no way Uganda would enter into such an arrangement,” Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Elly Kamahungye said.
However, International Affairs Minister Henry Okello Oryem acknowledged that Uganda had been approached by Israel to take in the refugees.
“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,” he said.
But he added that the approach had been rebuffed because as a policy, the country did not accept repatriated or deported non-citizens.
“We only accept refugees who walk across our borders, not unwanted immigrants rejected by other countries,” said Mr Oryem.
Human rights groups in Israel say that the plan is in violation of UN policy.
According to the Israeli media, under the agreement in principle, Uganda would take between 1,500 and 2,000 Eritreans currently in Israel in exchange for military, technological and agricultural aid. The Ugandan government is also reportedly earn $8,000 per head to absorb the refugees.
But Mr Oryem denied there was any offer of incentives outside the normal package for resettlement of the refugees, which includes housing, health, educational, energy and safe water facilities.
Israeli Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar told Knesset legislators last week that the special envoy of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Hagai Hadas, had reached an agreement with a third country to absorb Eritreans and Sudanese who crossed from Egypt into Israel over the past six years.
“In the first stage, we will focus on raising awareness within the population of infiltrators while helping them with the logistics of their departure, including costs, airfare and dealing with the possessions they accumulated while they were in Israel,” Mr Sa’ar said. During the second stage, Israel will set a deadline by which certain people within the “infiltrator population” will be asked to “willingly” leave the country.
Over the past eight years, around 60,000 African migrants, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan, have entered Israel via Egypt. Around 2,000 are being held in a prison camp. Most are reported to have applied for refugee status, but their requests are yet to be processed.