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Uganda 'considering' Israel's request to take 500 migrants

Alex Gitta in Kampala
April 13, 2018

A government minister has confirmed that Uganda may take in 500 migrants of African origin. Organizations working with refugees in the East African country warn that resources are already running low.

African refugees demonstrate against Israel's plan to forcibly expel them
Image: picture-alliance/newscom/D. Hill/UPI Photo

At a press conference on Friday, Uganda's State Minister for Disaster and Preparedness, Musa Ecweru, clarified reports of a deal with Israel to take in the deported migrants.

"The State of Israel has requested Uganda to allow about 500 refugees of Eritrean and Sudanese origin to be relocated to Uganda," he said. "I want to make it abundantly clear that the government and my ministry are positively considering this request."

The minister's comments are the first official confirmation of an agreement to take in the African migrants. Their planned deportations have caused widespread protests in Israel.

Ecweru says the refugees will be subjected to a rigorous screening process which will determine whether they will be granted asylum.

Read more: Is Israel Africa's new best friend?

No financial benefits expected

There had been reports that any country which accepted the migrants would receive monetary compensation from Israel. However Ecweru denied that Uganda will benefit financially.

"Already we have 1.4 million refugees here in Uganda, and we have not been paid a cent," he said.

"In fact, it is us who are spending our limited resources to make sure that we [can give them] a second home here in Uganda, so there is no payment attached to this. It is purely humanitarian." 

A group of people waiting next to a UNHCR truck containing aid materials
Refugees queue to receive supplies from the UNHCR at Rwamwanja refugee camp in northern UgandaImage: Michele Sibiloni/AFP/Getty Images

More resources needed

When refugees arrive in Uganda they are usually handed over to the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR. But the UNHCR office in Uganda says they have no concrete information concerning the arrival of the African migrants.

World Vision is one of the main organizations helping to take care of refugees in Uganda. They say refugee numbers in the country are soaring, but funding and other resources required to manage them have not changed to reflect this influx. World Vision Uganda spokesman Moses Mukitale told DW that their resources are currently constrained and said the organization was calling on the international community to match Uganda's efforts.

"Some of [the refugees] have to eat only one meal a day so that they are able to have enough food for a month, so we need much more funding right now," he said.

"We need countries to commit more, but even beyond this commitment we need to see funding come in because Uganda's generosity needs to be matched up."

Communities located near the refugee camps have complained that refugees who do not have enough food have resorted to stealing from local villages.

Ecweru had previously said that immigrants who cannot support themselves will be sent to the camps, while others would be permitted to start their own businesses.

A group of African men, women and children cross a street in Tel Aviv
African refugees cross a street in Tel Aviv in an area which has become known as 'Little Africa'Image: picture-alliance/abaca/AA/K. Wolf

Human rights concerns in Israel

Efforts by Israel to expel African migrants have been strongly criticized by human rights organizations and activists, who have called the deportation plans unethical and a stain on the country's image as a refuge for Jewish migrants.

Israel considers the majority of its approximately 35,000 migrants to be job seekers and claims it has no legal obligation to keep them in the country.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu backtracked on a deal with the United Nations, which would have seen half of all migrants settled in the West and the other half absorbed by Israel.

Many of the migrants come from Sudan and Eritrea and began arriving in 2005 after Egypt violently suppressed a refugee demonstration and word spread of safety and more job opportunities in Israel.

Thousands of migrants live in poor neighborhoods in Tel Aviv, in an area which has become known as 'Little Africa.' Tensions have since risen with working class Jewish residents, who are continuing to pressure the government to take action, while migrants continue to protest against the deportation plan

Israel: Migrants must leave