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Is Israel exchanging arms for refugees with Rwanda?

Rwandan refugees living in Israel, stage a demonstration after Israeli authorities decided to deport refugees in Tel Aviv, Israel on 7 February 2018 [Kobi Wolf/Anadolu Agency]
Rwandan refugees living in Israel, stage a demonstration after Israeli authorities decided to deport refugees in Tel Aviv, Israel on 7 February 2018 [Kobi Wolf/Anadolu Agency]

An Israeli security mission made a secret visit to Rwanda last week in an effort to sell weapons and military technology to the country, Israel’s Maariv newspaper reported today.

The move comes after reports claimed Tel Aviv signed a deal which would see Rwanda to receive asylum seekers which are being forcibly expelled from Israel. Rwandan officials deny that such a deal has been made.The so-called Defence Assistance Division (SIBAT), the Special Unit for the African Continent of the Israeli Army, and representatives of Israeli military equipment manufacturers, including the Israeli electronic equipment manufacturer Elbit, Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI), Israeli Military Industries (IMI), Israeli Weapon Industries (IWI), and others joined the Israeli delegation.

Last August, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to deport African “infiltrators”, a pledge seen as rallying call to his far-right supporters ahead of 2019 elections.

Read: In first, Israel jails Eritrean asylum seekers for refusing deportation

But his government came under immense international pressure to halt discriminatory and “racist” treatment of African asylum-seekers.

With both Rwanda and Uganda insisting that they will not welcome asylum-seekers deported from Israel, the UN refugee agency UNHCR insists that Israel should now properly review their status and consider them for asylum within Israel.

According to figures from Israel’s Immigration and Absorption Authority, some 55,000 African migrants and asylum-seekers currently reside in the country, roughly 90 percent of whom hail from either Sudan or Eritrea.

Most of them arrived in Israel – via Egypt – during the period from 2006 to 2013 before a security fence was erected along the border between Israel and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

Since 2012, Israel has deported about 20,000 African migrants and asylum-seekers who illegally entered the country.

Out of 13,764 asylum applications submitted as of July, only 10 Eritreans and one Sudanese national were granted official refugee status.

Figures from the Rwandan branch of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) confirm that, between 2014 and 2017, 4,000 African refugees were sent to Rwanda as part of a voluntary departure programme.Only seven of these remain in Rwanda, according to the UNHCR. The remainder, frustrated by their living conditions, left Rwanda for neighbouring countries or tried to reach Europe.

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