Rwanda says no deal with Israel to accept deported Africans

African would-be immigrants stand near the border fence between Israel and Egypt near the Israeli village of Be'er Milcha on September 6, 2012. ( Reuters Archive )

Rwanda has dismissed reports that it is preparing to receive African migrants deported from Israel as “fake news.”

Israel’s controversial plan to forcibly deport thousands of African asylum seekers and refugees has hit a dead end after Rwanda decided to opt out of the deal.

Rwanda said on Friday that reports it had agreed to such a deal were “fake news.”

It followed Uganda, which had the previous day also denied it would receive 38,000 Eritrean and Sudanese migrants who Israel threatened to deport or arrest.

“Rwanda has no deal whatsoever with #Israel to host any African migrant from that country. This story is no news; it’s fake news,” Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Olivier Nduhungirehe said Friday on Twitter.

Both Rwanda and Uganda had been previously mentioned in press reports as “third countries” that had agreed to receive the asylum seekers for possible economic and military gains.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Rwandan leader Paul Kagame in Nairobi last month, and the two are said to have talked extensively about the deal.

Although Netanyahu emerged from the talks announcing that Israel will set up an embassy in Kigali, Friday’s development seems to have turned relations frosty.

On Wednesday, Israel launched a programme to force some 38,000 migrants, mainly Eritreans and Sudanese, to leave the country.

Human rights activists in Israel as well as international NGO Human Rights Watch are relieved that both Rwanda and Uganda’s decision will derail Israel’s plans and force the country to develop a more respectful deal for the asylum seekers.

Reports by Human Rights Watch had documented that Israel had already been deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda and Uganda, which were corroborated by the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.

Migrants have until the end of March to leave, according to the Israeli government, and each will receive a plane ticket and 2,900 euros.

Those who decline will face arrest, with reports saying Netanyahu asked his security adviser to draw up a plan to forcibly expel undocumented migrants who are unwilling to leave by boarding them onto flights in handcuffs if necessary.

Asylum seekers and refugees from Africa in Israel say they are fleeing conflict, economic depression and persecution and are seeking refugee status.

Israel said it plans to close its Holot migrant detention centre within months in anticipation of large-scale deportations to third-party countries.