Uganda is “positively considering” Israel’s request to take in 500 rejected Eritrean or Sudanese migrants, a government minister said Friday, the first official confirmation of an agreement to accept African migrants whose planned deportations have caused widespread protests in Israel.
The migrants will be vetted before receiving asylum in the East African country, Musa Ecweru, a government minister in charge of refugees, said in a statement. That work will be done in coordination with migration organizations.
Uganda’s government had previously denied reports of a deal with Israel to take in the deported migrants.
Israel considers most of about 35,000 migrants to be job seekers and says it has no legal obligation to keep them. The Africans say they face danger if they return home.
A wide coalition of critics in Israel and in the Jewish American community had called Israel’s deportation plans unethical and a stain on the country’s image as a refuge for Jewish migrants. Several mass protests against it have taken place in recent months.
Earlier this month Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nixed his own deal with the United Nations under which roughly half of the migrants would have been resettled in the West and others absorbed in Israel. Netanyahu cancelled the plan after heavy criticism from nationalists within his ruling coalition.
Nearly all the migrants come from Sudan and Eritrea, countries with a poor human rights record. They started arriving in 2005 after neighboring Egypt violently quashed a refugee demonstration and word spread of safety and job opportunities in Israel.
Tens of thousands crossed the porous desert border before Israel completed a barrier in 2012 that stopped the influx. Israel has struggled with what to do with those already in the country, alternating between plans to jail and deport them and allowing them to work in menial jobs.
Thousands are concentrated in poor neighborhoods in south Tel Aviv, an area that has become known as “Little Africa.” Their presence has sparked tensions with working-class Jewish residents, who have complained of rising crime and pressed the government to take action.