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President Kagame of Rwanda: Please don’t accept forced deportees from Israel!

Israeli refugee aid groups beseech the Rwandan leader to only allow in his country those who come willingly
African migrants clash with Israeli soldiers after they left Holot detention center in southern Israel and walked towards the Border with Egypt near the southern Israeli Kibbutz of Nitzana, Friday, June, 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
African migrants clash with Israeli soldiers after they left Holot detention center in southern Israel and walked towards the Border with Egypt near the southern Israeli Kibbutz of Nitzana, Friday, June, 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

We are a group of Israeli community organizations, professional associations and local branches of international human rights organizations, all of whom work with African asylum seekers in Israel, and all of whom are deeply troubled by the Israeli government’s plan to deport African asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Many letters and petitions against this inhumane decision have been addressed to Israeli leaders, but we believe it is vital to appeal to Rwandan President Paul Kagame. We are imploring the Rwandan government to reverse their decision to collaborate with forced deportations. Rather than violate human rights and international law, we appeal to Rwanda to draw from its own history of violent conflict to help Israel and countries around the world to find just and humane solutions to the refugee crisis until conditions in home countries allow for refugees’ safe return.

An Appeal to President Paul Kagame of Rwanda: Please Don’t Accept Forced Deportees From Israel!

January 23, 2018
His Excellency Paul Kagame
President of the Republic of Rwanda

Dear President Kagame,

We were very encouraged to read Rwanda’s ardent confirmation that there is no deal between Israel and Rwanda regarding the relocation of African asylum seekers. We applaud Rwanda’s “open door” policy for the men, women, and children of Africa who find themselves in exile. Rwanda’s own history provides a poignant reminder of the importance of safe havens, as hundreds of thousands of Rwandans fleeing from the genocide relied on the hospitality of countries providing them refuge until it was truly safe to return home. By offering shelter and safety to anyone who comes to their borders, Rwanda has become a beacon for all countries of the world as they struggle to deal with the refugee crisis.

We are therefore deeply concerned that Rwanda has been unwittingly implicated in a plan of forced deportations from Israel. In direct violation of human rights and international law, Israeli immigration authorities have begun notifying asylum seekers that they must choose between life in prison, or deportation to Rwanda. Recent statements from Rwandan government officials have insisted that Rwanda will not accept those deported under constraint. Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo avowed that Rwanda is only prepared to accept “willing” deportees. Yet, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has continually boasted that Israel will be “ejecting” infiltrators, and Israeli immigration officers have begun implementing the policy. The Israeli government has made no pretense regarding the lack of consent among those targeted for deportation.

In light of these circumstances, we ask the Rwandan government: how will you verify that those deported to Rwanda have consented to their deportation? How will you be defining consent? Faced with the choice of life in prison, or deportation to Rwanda, are there any grounds for claiming that these deportees are “willing”? What apparatus will you put in place to ensure that those coming to Rwanda have not been forced out of Israel? And, as we are concerned about the welfare of these asylum seekers, can UNHCR Rwanda, or the Rwandan Ministry of Interior provide any documentation on the whereabouts and welfare of thousands already deported by Israel to Rwanda since 2014?

The issue of deportees’ “willingness” is at the core of Rwanda’s “open door” policy. Before any asylum seekers board an airplane to Kigali, it is of utmost importance for the government of Rwanda to verify beyond any doubt that they are indeed acting “voluntarily, and without any constraint.”

ASSAF Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel

Eritrean Women’s Community Center

Friendship Across Borders

Israeli Association of African Studies

Kuchinate – African Refugees Women’s Collective

Negev Refugees Center

Other Voice – For a Civil Solution to the Conflict

Physicians for Human Rights – Israel

Psychoactive – Mental Health Professionals for Human Rights

Social Workers for Peace and Social Welfare

Students Against the Deportations


About the Author
Lynn Schler is a Professor of African Studies at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. She is the author of several books and articles on African history and politics.