Israel secretly ships African asylum seekers to Uganda
Published Wednesday 19/02/2014 (updated) 21/02/2014 15:14
African asylum seekers, who entered Israel illegally via Egypt, stage a
protest outside the Holot detention center in the southern Negev Desert
on Feb. 17, 2014 (AFP/File Jack Guez)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Israel is secretly transferring African asylum seekers to Uganda, Haaretz newspaper reported on Wednesday, quoting a senior Israeli government official.
The paper said that, over the past month, dozens of people agreed to leave for Uganda and some had already departed.
The Israeli immigration service spokeswoman could not be reached by AFP for comment.
Last June, a government official told the Israeli Supreme Court agreement had been reached with an unnamed third country prepared to take in Africans seeking asylum in Israel.
Interior Minister Gideon Saar said last month 1,500 Africans who entered Israel illegally were due to leave the country by the end of February. That compared with 765 in January, 325 in December 2013 and 63 in November.
Israeli figures say there are some 52,000 Africans in the country illegally, mostly from Sudan and Eritrea. They managed to enter the country before the completion late last year of a hi-tech fence along the border with Egypt brought the flow to a virtual halt.
The government says most are economic migrants rather than genuine refugees, but media reports say that few asylum requests have been examined and hardly any approved.
Israel does not send Eritreans home because of the potential danger facing them there and it cannot repatriate Sudanese, as it has no diplomatic relations with Khartoum.
In 2012, rising tensions over the growing number of illegal migrants exploded into violence when a protest in south Tel Aviv turned ugly. Demonstrators smashed African shops and property, chanting "Blacks out!"
The right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stepped up moves to expel them, saying they pose a threat to the state's Jewish character.
The government has opened a sprawling detention facility in the Negev desert to house both new entrants and immigrants already in the country deemed to have disturbed public order.
The UNHCR has condemned Israel for ignoring the reasons asylum seekers have fled their countries of origin and for failing to provide "those with protection needs" with "access to refugee status determination."
Thousands of asylum seekers have demonstrated recently outside parliament and migrant detention centers to protest immigration policy.