Netanyahu agrees to only deport African migrants according to international law
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Rwandan President Paul Kagame on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Wednesday to discuss the 38,000 migrants seeking asylum in Israel, but facing imminent deportation.
According to a statement from the Prime Minister’s office, Netanyahu agreed with his Rwandan counterpart that while his government plans to deport a large majority in an alleged deal with Rwanda, he would only do so in accordance with international law.
"Prime Minister Netanyahu agreed with President Kagame, who emphasized that he will only accept a process that meets the demands of international law," said his office.
The Israeli premier announced last month, following the closure of the Holot migrant detention center, that the primarily Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers had a choice: either to receive a one-time payment of $3500 and leave Israel “voluntarily” to an African country, or stay in Israel and face indefinite incarceration in a more permanent detention center. The deadline given is the end of March 2018.
It is illegal to "refoul" asylum-seekers to their countries of origin, so Israel is said to have struck deals to deport them to Rwanda and Uganda, although none of the countries involved have confirmed the arrangement.
However, Rwanda's deputy foreign minister Olivier Nduhungirehe recently told the Associated Press no such deal has ever been reached, and a Ugandan official dismissed it as "fake news."
Ahead of the Wednesday meeting the Rwandan government firmly denied the reports of a "secret deal" with Israel.
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. (4/5)— Government of Rwanda (@RwandaGov) January 22, 2018
Meanwhile Nduhungirehe tweeted following the meeting Wednesday, "Rwanda will NEVER receive any African migrant who is deported against his/her will."
"Our open doors policy only applies to those who come to Rwanda voluntary, without any form of constraint. Any manipulation of women, men and children in distress is appalling," he wrote regarding the Rwandan government's denial.
The Israeli government's plans to deport the some 40,000 migrants has sparked outrage in Israeli civil society, including reactions from religious, intellectual and media figures.
Thousands of migrants have been protesting the deportation in recent weeks, and even Holocaust survivors have joined in the call.
The tragic story of Anne Frank has also been used in a campaign against the deportation of African asylum seekers from Israel called "Anne Frank Home Sanctuary movement."
Launched by prominent Israeli Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman, the movement proposes to shelter African asylum seekers who are due for deportation in order to save them from unsafe prospects upon their return to Africa.
In a speech at the Knesset, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu acknowledged the wave of protests against the deportations.
"I hear claims regarding the illegal migrants and our policy. We are not acting against refugees, he said. "We are acting against illegal migrants who come here not as refugees but for work needs."
Israel claims that most of those claiming asylum are in fact economic migrants, but Netanyahu added that “Israel will continue to offer asylum for genuine refugees" while removing "illegal migrants from its midst."
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