For some years now, Ugandans have been bemused by claims that Israel has been dumping unwanted illegal immigrants in Uganda and Rwanda in exchange for some bilateral military and development aid deals.
Both Kampala and Kigali have consistently denied this and many Ugandans have believed their government. But the reports won’t go away. Last week, Al Jazeera carried a detailed story about Eritreans deported from Israel to Uganda, complete with a ‘resettlement’ package of $3,500.
According to an Israel official quoted in the report, that country has agreements with two unnamed African countries to take in illegal immigrants. The credible story further said that even immigrants who are sent to Rwanda end up across the border in the presumably-more welcoming Uganda.
This situation is both undesirable and unsustainable. Yes, Uganda has won international praise for welcoming refugees from troubled neighbouring countries and we are not about to advocate that Ugandans suddenly become heartless hostile persecutors of people fleeing to save their lives. But the combination of persistent denials by our government and the persistent evidence to the contrary is troubling.
First, the idea that Uganda is persuaded or bribed to take in unwanted people from elsewhere is wrong. The secrecy around this issue raises pertinent questions about the terms of the supposed deals.
And whatever the terms, this arrangement is not one Ugandans can be proud of. We are not sure these people are screened to keep out those with dangerous records. Secondly, these people are not officially refugees, and after the ‘resettlement package’ Israel gives is finished, they become jobless beggars; who knows what else they can do?
Government needs to come clean and explain what is going on. Government officials can continue pleading ignorance of any deals to bring immigrants here, but that leaves it looking rather weak.
It could mean that some well-connected individuals in Uganda have cut a deal with Israel behind the back of the government. Were that to be the case, then the government would have to urgently investigate this puzzle.