Uganda’s government has announced that it will accept some 500 “interested” Eritreans and Sudanese refugees from Israel
Uganda is “positively considering” Israel’s request to take 500 Eritrean or Sudanese migrants rejected by Israel, a senior government official said on Friday, the first official confirmation of an agreement to receive African migrants whose planned deportations have caused widespread protests in Israel.
The migrants will be thoroughly evaluated by Ugandan officials before receiving asylum in this East African country, Musa Ecweru, the government minister in charge of refugees, said in a statement.
Uganda’s government has previously denied reports of a deal with Israel to accept the deported migrants.
Israel considers most of the 35,000 migrants to be job seekers and says it has no legal obligation to keep them. The Africans say they face danger if they return home.
A wide coalition of critics in Israel and in the Jewish American community had called the government’s deportation plans unethical and a stain on Israel’s image as a refuge for Jewish migrants.
Several mass protests against it have taken place in recent months.
Earlier this month Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nixed his own deal with the United Nations in which roughly half of the migrants living in Israel would have been resettled in the West and others absorbed in Israel. Netanyahu cancelled the plan after facing heavy criticism among nationalists within his own ruling coalition.
Nearly all the migrants hail from Sudan and Eritrea, countries with poor human rights records. The Africans started arriving in 2005 after neighbouring Egypt violently quashed a refugee demonstration and word spread of safety and job opportunities in Israel.
Tens of thousands crossed the porous desert border before Israel completed a barrier in 2012 that stopped the influx. Israel has struggled with what to do with those already in the country, alternating between plans to jail and deport them and allowing them to work in menial jobs.
Thousands have concentrated in poor neighbourhoods in south Tel Aviv, an area that has become known as “Little Africa.” Their presence has sparked tensions with working-class Jewish residents, who have complained of rising crime and pressed the government to take action.