BEIRUT

Middle East

Israel shipping African refugees to Uganda

File - African migrants sit on top of a Holocaust memorial installation in Rabin's square during a protest in Tel Aviv, Israel, Jan. 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit,)

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israel is secretly transferring African asylum seekers to Uganda, Haaretz newspaper reported Wednesday, quoting a senior Israeli government official.

The paper said that over the past month dozens of people agreed to leave for Uganda and some had already departed.

Last June, a state official told the Israeli Supreme Court agreement had been reached with an unnamed third country prepared to take in Africans seeking asylum in Israel.

Interior Minister Gideon Saar said last month 1,500 Africans who entered Israel illegally were due to leave the country by the end of February. The government says that most are economic migrants rather than genuine refugees, but media reports say that few asylum requests have been examined and hardly any approved.

In 2012, rising tensions over the growing number of illegal migrants exploded into violence when a protest in south Tel Aviv turned ugly. Protesters smashed African shops and property, chanting “Blacks out!”

The right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stepped up moves to expel them, saying they pose a threat to the state’s Jewish character.

The UNHCR has condemned Israel for ignoring the reasons asylum seekers have fled their countries of origin and for failing to provide “those with protection needs” with “access to refugee status determination.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 20, 2014, on page 9.

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