The Latest: Rwanda, Uganda deny migrant deal with Israel
JERUSALEM (AP) — The Latest on deal to resettle African migrants in Israel (all times local):
The two African countries thought to be the ones taking in migrants deported from Israel are again denying any such agreement was made.
Ministers with Uganda and Rwanda spoke after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled an agreement with the United Nations to resettle thousands of African migrants to Western nations. Critics in Israel opposed the deal because it would allow many other migrants to remain.
Uganda’s foreign affairs minister, Henry Okello Oryem, says that if any migrants deported from Israel arrive in the East African nation “we will insist that the airlines return them to the country where they came from.”
He added: “We do not have a contract, any understanding, formal or informal, with Israel for them to dump their refugees here.”
Rwanda’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Olivier Nduhungirehe, says no deal was ever signed with Israel, adding that “we have a general open policy on the refugees but our condition is that those migrants must be willing to come to Rwanda without any form of constraint.”
The U.N. refugee agency has expressed “disappointment” over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to withdraw from an agreement to resettle African migrants.
Under heavy pressure from his hard-line political allies, Netanyahu on Tuesday said he was canceling the deal with the UNHCR, just a day after announcing it at a nationally televised news conference.
Under the deal, the UNHCR would have resettled roughly half of the 35,000 African migrants in Israel in Western countries, while Israel would have absorbed the rest. Israeli hard-liners are opposed to allowing the migrants to remain.
In a statement, the UNHCR said it was disappointed and urged Netanyahu to reconsider.
The UNHCR “continues to believe that a win-win agreement that would both benefit Israel and people needing asylum is in everyone’s best interests.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he has decided to cancel a deal with the United Nations to resettle African migrants in Western nations.
After meeting with angry residents of south Tel Aviv on Tuesday, Netanyahu says he reconsidered after hearing their concerns. Netanyahu faced heavy criticism from nationalist allies, even within his own ruling Likud party.
Netanyahu had announced on national TV that Israel had agreed to cancel the planned expulsion of tens of thousands of African migrants. Under the deal, roughly half of the 35,000 migrants living in Israel would be resettled in the West. But the rest would stay in Israel. But just hours later he reversed course, saying he was putting it on hold.
The issue has divided Israel for a decade and drawn fierce criticism.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to put on hold a deal to resettle African migrants in Western nations has drawn both criticism and praise.The deal with the United Nations would see half the 35,000 migrants in Israel relocated. Netanyahu suspended the deal late Monday just hours after announcing it.
Netanyahu is set to meet with Israeli residents of areas with large migrant populations.
Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay called the decision: “sad, troubling and even a little scary that decisions are made that way.”
Gabbay criticized the sudden turnaround on Army Radio on Tuesday questioning if defense decisions are made the same way.
Naftali Bennett, leader of the nationalist Jewish Home party, welcomed the move, calling the deal “very dangerous” for Israel.
Hardliners in Netanyahu’s coalition criticized the deal and pressured Netanyahu to suspend it.