Following months of denials, Uganda said Friday it was “positively considering” a proposal from Israel to accept hundreds of Africans the country wishes to deport.
Uganda’s junior refugees minister, Musa Ecweru, said Israel had requested that Uganda accept about 500 Eritrean and Sudanese migrants.
Ecweru denied any suggestion of a financial motive for taking in the migrants.
Uganda’s motivation is “purely humanitarian” and “all refugees world over, are voluntarily repatriated” in “strict observance” of international law, Ecweru said.
In November last year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans to deport some 40,000 African migrants who had entered the country illegally.
Africans began entering Israel through what was then a porous Egyptian border in 2007. The border has since been strengthened, all but ending illegal crossings.
Netanyahu’s plan has stirred up a political storm, given that some migrants come from Eritrea or Sudan, where rights experts point to a high risk of abuse or armed conflict.
Israel tacitly recognises the Sudanese and Eritreans cannot be returned to their dangerous homelands, which is why a third country was sought as a viable option.
Netanyahu has repeatedly referred to migrants from these countries as “not refugees but illegal infiltrators”. The United Nations has referred to the migrants as “people needing asylum”.
Deportees and aid workers said the destination sketched in Netanyahu’s plan was either Rwanda or Uganda, although both countries denied that any such deal had been agreed.
Rights groups reported that Israel had offered the migrants $3,500 (2,800 euros) to relocate to Uganda or face indefinite imprisonment with eventual forced expulsion.
Netanyahu last week agreed to cancel the controversial plan and grant 16,000 migrants temporary residency with an equivalent number resettled in Western nations. But he reversed his position just hours later.