The secret program, meant to lower the number of African immigrants flocking to the country for a better life, reportedly includes a $3,500 cash incentive to each deportee.
Due to intense pressure by the Israeli government and harsh living conditions, immigrants seeking asylum from several African nations have agreed to leave the state of Israel and relocate to a third-party country on the African continent, according to various reports.
Over the last several weeks, dozens of asylum seekers have agreed to leave Israel for Uganda, and some have already left, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on Wednesday.
“Haaretz has obtained information that a Sudanese citizen who had been detained at the Saharonim detention center flew to Uganda, where he was reunited with his family,” the newspaper reported.
“The man called his friends in Israel and said there were six other asylum seekers from Sudan with him on the flight, all of whom had been released from Saharonim. The man also said he had received a grant of $3,500 for leaving the country, which is in keeping with the government’s ‘voluntary departure’ procedure.”
Saharonim Prison is an Israeli detention facility for African asylum seekers — mostly from Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia — located in the Negev Desert.
The Africans claim they are fleeing persecution and danger. Israeli officials claim they are job seekers, but have had a difficult time deporting them because of grave human rights situations in their home countries, which are also often in some state of conflict or post-conflict status.
Another report by the Associated Press sourced an unnamed Israeli official who confirmed the existence of the program and said about 30 African immigrants have so far agreed to leave Israel for Uganda.
Israeli officials told the High Court of Justice in June that it had reached a deal with a third country that could take in the immigrants, but would not reveal the name of the country, Haaretz reported. Senior Israeli officials later confirmed that the country was Uganda.
Both the Haaretz and AP articles reported that Ugandan officials have denied the existence of the program.
“We are not privy to such an arrangement,” David Kazungu, a Ugandan government commissioner who is in charge of refugees, told the AP.
The East African nation has played host to many refugees through the years, especially those emigrating from conflict-wracked countries along its borders, like the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan. However, in this instance it appears there are no guarantees that once the immigrants arrive in Uganda they would be afforded protection or asylum status.
“The State of Israel is proposing to asylum seekers a return to Uganda with no assurances or official agreement,” Reut Michaeli, director of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, said on Wednesday, according to Haaretz.
“In addition to all that, it is known that Uganda deports asylum seekers to their countries of origin.”
The report further notes that as far as Michaeli understood the situation, the asylum seekers will not receive legal status in Uganda and they will not have any papers allowing them to leave if they wanted to go anywhere else on their own.
According to the Population and Immigration Authority, as of Sept. 2013 there were 53,646 asylum seekers from Africa in Israel. Among them were 35,987 Eritreans, 13,249 Sudanese and 4,400 people from other countries, Haaretz reported.