By Ivan Nganwa
KIGALI, Rwanda (AA) - Thousands of African asylum seekers protested outside the Rwandan embassy in Israel against a government plan to forcibly deport them to Rwanda and Uganda.
The protesters -- the majority of whom are Eritrean and a few from Sudan’s Darfur region -- called on Rwandan authorities to cancel any agreement with Israel for the forcible deportation of African asylum seekers from the country.
“We plead with you to accept our request and call on your government to cancel the agreement reached with Israel that enables our forced deportation,” the protesters said in a letter addressed to the Rwandan ambassador to Israel, Joseph Rutabana.
“We are Eritreans, we are not Rwandans. We have a problem in our country and Israel needs to examine our asylum requests and give us protection. We ask Rwanda to object the agreement with Israel.”
In November, the Israeli Cabinet approved a plan to close the Holot detention center, located in the southern Negev desert and housing over 1,000 African asylum seekers.
Once it is closed officially, asylum seekers will be forced to choose between indefinite imprisonment in Israel or forcefully be deported to Rwanda and Uganda.
Israel is home to about 40,000 asylum seekers, including 27,500 Eritrean and 7,800 Sudanese asylum seekers, UNHCR figures show.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Sultan Halofom, a representative of the asylum seekers, described the Israeli plan as “racist” since it only focuses on refugees and asylum seekers from Africa and not elsewhere.
“There are tens of thousands of other asylum seekers in Israel from Eastern European nations. However, these people are not being targeted by the Israeli government in the same way that we Africans are,” he said.
“The Israeli government decision to only target Africans for deportation appears to be an act of pure racism,” he said.
“We appeal to Rwanda, whose president serves as the chairman of the African Union, not to participate in this scheme that completely devalues African lives.”
His views are backed by the fact that the Israeli government repeatedly refers to African asylum seekers as “infiltrators” or “illegal job seekers” while ignoring the tough political and economic reality they escaped in their mother country.
Although both Rwanda and Uganda bowed to international pressure early this month with officials claiming that no such deal exists with Israel, the denials were taken with a pinch of salt.
This was particularly because both heads of state -- Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Paul Kagame of Rwanda -- had in the past talked of ongoing negotiations with Israel to deport the asylum seekers.
Last week, UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler appealed to Israel to halt its policy of relocating Eritreans and Sudanese to sub-Saharan Africa.
This, he said, was because some 80 cases of Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers who were interviewed showed they risked their lives by taking dangerous onward journeys to Europe via Libya.