Rwandan President Paul Kagame has confirmed media reports that Kigali is finalising a multimillion dollar deal that will see it host illegal immigrants that Israel intends to expel.
According to Israeli media reports, the Middle Eastern country plans to relocate illegal immigrants to Rwanda and Uganda, which Kigali had denied knowledge of.
The agreement, which has come under scrutiny by human rights organisations, will see Israel deport hundreds of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers to both Rwanda and Uganda in return for favourable deals that include millions of dollars in grants.
Israel’s Interior ministry confirmed this week in a statement that it will "expel immigrants from the detention centres" and encourage migrants "to leave Israel in a safe and respectable way" to targeted African countries that would grant them legal immigration rights.
Addressing a press conference in Kigali on Thursday, President Kagame said that there is an ongoing discussion between Rwanda and Israel, even though he does not have details regarding the progress.
“On Rwanda and Israel, yes, I know there has been this discussion and it has been a debate in Israel about these Africans who have migrated to Israel as they do to other European countries. Some of them are either there illegally or with different status,” he said.
President Kagame said that Israel planned to return the immigrants to their countries of origin but some refused citing danger to their lives. He added that the Tel Aviv government suggested to them different countries including Rwanda where they would be relocated to.
“I do not know the details this far, what more or less that has happened to the issue,” the president said adding that he has learnt that “there is some package they (Israel) give them to leave, so we have been approached.”
Mr Kagame said the Rwandan immigration is handling the issue.
Efforts to reach the Immigration director-general Mr Anaclet Kalibata or the institution’s spokesperson Ange Sebutege were futile.
According to reports, Israel is set to deport Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers estimated to be over 50,000 to countries in Africa – including Rwanda and Uganda under a new policy which has been greatly criticised by human rights defenders.
Israel has been accused of imposing on the Eritrean and Sudanese migrants into leaving the country with their future in the new countries not guaranteed. In return, the receiving countries are expected to receive huge amounts of unspecified cash.
Last September, a Human Rights Watch report concluded that the Tel Aviv government created "convoluted legal rules" and used the insecure legal status of Eritrean and Sudanese migrants to detain them indefinitely.
Many asylum-seekers are held in southern Israel’s Holot detention facility, in the middle of the Negev desert. The facility is regarded as a de facto open-air prison according to an Eritrean refugee named Hobtom, who spoke to IBTimes UK in 2014.
The asylum-seekers find themselves in a coercive position with the choice of "living in fear of spending the rest of their days locked up in desert detention" or risking life-threatening abuse back home, according to the Human Rights Watch.
Before President Kagame confirmed the development, both Rwanda and Uganda had remained tight lipped on the matter.
According to Ha’aretz, an Israel publication, the first batch of the refugees arrived in Rwanda last year only to find out they had no legal status there except for 10-day tourist visas and a three-day hotel stay paid for by Israel.
“They are not granted their basic rights and, for the most part, they are not given any official status documents or permits, meaning they cannot legally work in Rwanda and face possible arrest,” the online publication reported.
These asylum seekers were paid $3,500 by Israel to “voluntarily” leave Israel – the alternative was prison – and were led to believe they would be granted refugee status or legal work permits in Rwanda, Ha’aretz reported.
The EastAfrican however could not independently verify these claims.
Rwanda and Israel have in recent days developed close links buoyed by the similar history the two countries share, having suffered mass massacres in the Genocide against the Tutsi and the Holocaust.
In June, Kigali announced plans to open a diplomatic mission in Tel Aviv, while military deals between the two countries have also been boosted.