Sister Azaet Kidane -- an Eritrean member of the Comboni missionary congregation -- said that Israel is paying the African nation of Rwanda to take in deported African migrants. "Israel has found a drastic way to solve the problem of African immigrants: it will pay Rwanda to welcome them. Some use the verb 'sell' to describe the policy launched by [Israeli premier] Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. Is this not a business of human beings?" said Kidane, according to the FIDES news service.
Sister Kidane has lived in Israel, assisting migrants there for many years.
At the beginning of the year, the Israeli government announced its agreement with Rwanda to pay the African nation for each migrant it accepts. "Starting from 2011,” explained Sister Kidane, “the flow of African migrants to Israel has increased. Faced with this phenomenon, the government initially transferred Africans to open prisons, where they left in the morning and returned in the evening. African boys and girls could work as waiters, porters, servants, carers.
The Supreme Court, however, banned the detention of persons without conviction and the government had to release them."
"Having signed international conventions for the protection of refugees,” observed Sister Kidane, “Israel cannot repatriate migrants in Eritrea or Sudan, where their lives are at risk. Therefore it signed an agreement with Rwanda. Israel pays Rwanda five thousand dollars per person, plus gives 3,500 to individual migrants. The latter sign a commitment never to return to Israel. Many migrants who accepted repatriation arrived in Rwanda and there the local authorities seized their documents, money and did not grant the right to asylum. The refugees were taken to the border with Uganda from where they travelled towards Sudan, Libya and finally to Europe. Many of them died."
Those who do not agree for deportation to Rwanda must apply for asylum or face expulsion. Sister Kidane said, "But it is impossible to apply.” She said, "Every day, dozens of people show up at government counters, but only a few are received and, in any case, they do not receive answers. By March, those who have not applied will be arrested and jailed. This time, however, in real prisons. Israel does not want Africans because it fears that immigration can undermine the Jewish identity of the country. That said, in my opinion, Israel needs African labor. There are spaces for an authentic integration and reception. It is the political will that is lacking."
This week, more than 2,000 asylum seekers have demonstrated in front of the Rwandan embassy in Tel Aviv, protesting against Israel's intention to deport migrants to Rwanda: "We do not want to be sold as slaves," protesters said.
There is also concern among Israelis. A pilot, Shaul Betzer of Israel’s El Al airline, recently wrote: "As a human being and as a member of the Jewish people, raised in the values of Zionism, I cannot take part in the flight that takes refugees to a destination where their chances of survival is practically zero.". An El Al pilot added: "Refugees who already live among us cannot be rejected and sent back to their countries where suffering and excruciating death await them."
On Twitter, a minister of state in Rwanda's Foreign Ministry, disputed reports of any deal between Israel and his country concerning migrants. Olivier Nduhungirehe wrote, "Rwanda will never receive any African migrant who is deported against his/her will."
Okello Oryem of Uganda's foreign ministry said this week, "There is no written agreement or any form of agreement between the government of Uganda and the Israeli government to accept refugees from Israel." Any suggestion to the contrary is "fake news...absolute rubbish," said Oryem.
On Tuesday, Rwanda's government officially rebutted reports of a deal with Israel, despite media reports and Israeli government sources. "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." It added, "In this regard, Rwanda's policy vis-a-vis Africans in need of a home, temporary or permanent, within our country's means, remains 'open doors.'"
Nduhungirehe said further, "Our open doors policy only applies to those who come to Rwanda voluntarily, without any form of constraint. Any manipulation of women, men, and children in distress is appalling."