Uganda has denied partnering with Israel to host thousands of African migrants who have been ordered to leave the Middle East country in the next three months.
“We have no agreement with the Israeli government to send refugees from other countries that are in Israel to Uganda. We are baffled with the reports,” said the State Minister in charge of International Affairs Mr Henry Oryem Okello.
“We have no partnership agreement with the government of Israel, ask them (Israel) to explain how they reached that decision,” Mr Okello told Daily Monitor.
The minister’s denial comes after the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday issued a notice for thousands of African migrants to leave the country or face imprisonment.
Described as "infiltrators", the 38,000 migrants who entered Israel illegally, mainly Eritreans and Sudanese, will have until the end of March to leave.
Each will receive a plane ticket and $3,500 (2,900 euros) to do so. After March, this amount will decrease and those who continue to refuse to go will face arrest.
Holot, an open facility in Israel's desert south that can host 1,200 migrants who are allowed to leave to work during the day, is also set to be closed.
Dr Livingstone Sewanyana, the Executive Director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) said that repatriation of refugees is only acceptable if they would not suffer harassment or mistreatment like those they flee from.
“If Israel has ascertained that the conditions prevailing in those countries are conducive, it would not be in breach of international obligations. But if the conditions still warrant refugees to be protected, Israel would be in breach of her obligations,” he said.
Dr Sewanyana observed that Uganda as a host country would be in fulfilment of her international obligations to accord refugees’ protection.
“If they (refugees) do not render host communities in a condition of competition over land and other resources, there would be no problem. But if they create unnecessary competition, it would be advisable that Uganda does not render her borders unnecessarily open,” Dr Sewanyana said.
- Additional reporting from AFP