Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has spoken on the controversial issue of African immigrants being deported from the middle eastern country to Africa, saying that they are ‘job seekers’, not asylum seekers.
Israel has been criticised by rights groups over the mistreatment of African asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan, as well as over ongoing plans to resettle them back in African countries including Rwanda and Uganda.
“They don’t seek asylum in Israel, they seek jobs in Israel. Asylum seekers are something else. The 25-year, 23-year old, able-bodied people come to work in Israel,” Mr Netanyahu said during a joint press briefing with the Rwandan president in Kigali Wednesday.
“If they need asylum, they will get asylum, but if they want jobs, then we have an organised system of receiving people in Israel,” he added, noting that Israel regulates its borders just like any other country.
Some of the refugees claim they escaped persecution from their home countries and want asylum, but Mr Netanyahu dismissed the claim, stating that they come to look for jobs instead.
Tel Aviv plans to get rid of the over 45,000 African immigrants on its soil to different countries with which it has agreements.
Rwanda has confirmed the existence of such an agreement, with President Paul Kagame admitting last year that discussions were ongoing.
According to Israeli NGO Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, 92 per cent of the 45,000 asylum seekers in Israel are of Eritrean and Sudanese origin.
The NGO says the immigrants are routinely denied both asylum status and work permits and deported.
Over 3,000 have been deported in the last two years, though not to their home countries, but to Uganda and Rwanda, both of which are close allies of Israel.
Mr Netanyahu, while justifying the actions of his country, said that on the contrary, Israel has been able to legally assimilate black Africans into its territory, referring to Ethiopian Jewish people who were resettled and reintegrated in Israel.
He said that Israel has a clear policy on immigration, pointing out that it is not a case of asylum for the immigrants from Africa, but rather a case of “illegal immigration for jobs”.
President Kagame did not give any details on the arrangement between the two countries to take in immigrants but said “it is not a taboo for Rwanda and Israel to discuss on the matter” as they do on many other issues.
Upon arrival in Kigali, PM Netanyahu and wife Sara were welcomed by President Kagame and the First Lady Jeannette Kagame at Kigali International Airport, before they led the visiting leader to Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre.
Describing the scenes at the genocide museum, Mr Netanyahu said that Israel and Rwanda share a similar history, in reference to the holocaust targeting the Jewish people, but noted that both countries have been able to overcome the past to build a better future.
Mr Netanyahu referred to Rwanda as a “vibrant and resolute” country which has accomplished amazing things in a short time.
“These achievements are even more impressive given the horrors you had to overcome. This morning we went through an exceptional memorial, jaunting even I would say, to see the pictures of children, sometimes babies, their briefest life stories put before us. Families that were cut down by neighbours, ended by people they lived next to all their lives,” Mr Netanyahu said, describing the tragic events of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, adding that it provides a unique bond with the people of Israel who suffered similar tragedies.
“We both persevered despite the pain, and despite the hurt, we survived. We never lost hope and you never lost hope. Today Israel and Rwanda are successful states and models for progress,” he added.
President Kagame said that agreements were signed in which Rwanda and Israel will work together in areas of ICT, agriculture and trade among other things, as countries whose biggest resource are the people.
He said that cooperation in these areas has been in place, but the two countries are looking to strengthen them, noting water management as one of them.
“Israel manages scarcity of the water resource better than anyone I know in this world,” he said.
The Rwandan leader also used the opportunity to dismiss the criticism directed towards his country in regard to Rwanda’s democratic credentials and human rights record.
“I have my own criticisms against those critics. We can have a discussion but even going by the ordinary meaning of democracy, it is about people. It is about their choices,”
“I think in Rwanda, the Rwanda I know and the government I have been leading, there is nothing we have done that is not in the interest of our people, and based on the choices of our people. Nothing,” President Kagame said.
From Rwanda, Netanyahu will head to Ethiopia as he concludes an Eastern African tour which covered Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda.