Daily Israel Report

Is Israel Deporting Illegal Infiltrators to Uganda?

Uganda had previously denied a deal to take in illegal immigrants from Africa, but newspaper report claims dozens already leaving.
By Ari Soffer and AFP
First Publish: 2/19/2014, 6:17 PM

Illegal immigrants going home (file)
Illegal immigrants going home (file)
Flash 90

Israel is secretly transferring illegal immigrants from Africa to Uganda, according to Haaretz newspaper Wednesday.

The paper quoting an unnamed senior Israeli government official as saying that over the past month, dozens of people agreed to leave for Uganda and some had already departed.    

The Israeli immigration service spokeswoman could not be reached for comment.    

Last June, a government official told the Israeli Supreme Court an agreement had been reached with an unnamed third country prepared to take in Africans seeking asylum in Israel. Claims that Uganda was that third country were quickly denied at the time by the head of the country's refugees department.

Interior Minister Gideon Saar said last month that 1,500 out of the roughly 60,000 illegal African immigrants living in Israel were due to leave the country by the end of February. That compared with 765 in January, 325 in December 2013 and 63 in November. 

Official Israeli figures say there are some 52,000 Africans in the country illegally, mostly from Sudan and Eritrea. They managed to enter the country through the vast desert border with Egypt before the completion late last year of a hi-tech fence along the border with the Sinai Peninsula brought the flow to a virtual halt.    

Whilst left-wing NGOs insist most are refugees escaping an immediate danger to their lives, the Israeli government says they are simply economic migrants searching for work, and points out that only a tiny minority have even filed for refugee status.

The issue of illegal infiltrators hit headlines late last year after a coalition of far-left groups organized a series of massive protests demanding Israel grant those illegals currently living in the country refugee status, and opposing measures aimed at deporting them.

But many Israelis say that the massive influx of immigrants is unsustainable and potentially destabilizing for as small a country as Israel, with a tiny population of just 8 million. Residents of Israel's poorest neighborhoods - particularly in southern Tel Aviv, where most infiltrators are concentrated - complain that illegal immigrants are responsible for a massive spike in crime, including robbery, sexual assault and rape.

In southern Tel Aviv, where the majority of illegals have settled looking for work, the situation is particularly bad.

Last summer saw a string of particularly brutal crimes carried out by illegal immigrants, including a 35 year-old man who was dragged out of his car and beaten senseless in a random attack by a gang of African youths.

Despite prolonged pressure by citizens' rights groups on the government to crack down, Israel has not followed the hard line of other countries such as Saudi Arabia, which recently launched an initiative to round up and deport the country's large community of illegal workers, many of whom are also from Africa.

Almost all of Israel's illegal immigrant population hail from Eritrea and Sudan; authorities say that can't send home the former group because of the potential danger facing them in their home country, and it cannot repatriate Sudanese as it has no diplomatic relations with Khartoum. 

But the current government has stepped up moves to expel them, saying they pose a threat to the state's Jewish character. 

A recent bill aimed at helping law enforcement crack down on illegals was shot down by the Supreme Court, prompting angry responses from members of the ruling coalition.