Israel Transfers Unwanted Refugees to Uganda

3305 Views Kampala, Uganda

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However, Jemal says in 2014 he received a phone call from Inbal Insurance agency, a state owned firm notifying him that he was booked on an Ethiopian airlines flight to Entebbe on June 02.

Uganda is a recipient of several of refugees deported from Israel, despite repeated denials by government, URN can reveal. A clue about the transfer of the refugees first surfaced in September 2013, when Haaretz, a leading Israel news agency quoted Gideon Sa'ar, the Interior minister was quoted saying the deal for the transfer of refugees between the two countries wasn't completely unfounded. 


Ugandan foreign officials dismissed the allegations saying the deportations from Israel would be in contravention of established International laws that Uganda ascribes to.  A few months later, Israeli government officials also distanced themselves from the claims. While Uganda officials denied the allegations, they didn't deny that Israel had approached them to act as a transit country for the refugees.
 
However, Foreign Affairs minister Okello Oryem later confirmed in an interview with the East African newspaper that Uganda had been approached to host unwanted refugees of Eritrean and Sudanese.  URN's investigations into the matter show that the deal could have been discussed during President Yoweri Museveni's visit to Israel in 2011. During the visit, according to sources, Museveni held talks with his host Israel Premier Benjamin Netanyahu focusing on agricultural cooperation and military aid. 
 
Present in the meeting was Rafi Eitan, a retired Israel Air force Officer and Director of Israel's top spy agency Mossad. However, Etian attended the meeting in his capacity as the pension minister.  Eitan later retired to a private life in business and agriculture before he moved to Uganda to start up a cattle ranch. According to our sources, the former Israel spy chief became a close associate of Museveni and often advised the president on how to handle terror, which won him favors.
 
A source who worked in statehouse at the time says that each time Etian visited, he was highly guarded and given first priority. Details of his meetings with Museveni may never become public, but a gag order lifted by an Israel court in August this year shows that Uganda had agreed to a deal to take in over 5,000 Sudanese and Ethiopian refugees from Israel in exchange for arms and agricultural support. Museveni was in dire need of arms to deal with the emerging Al-shabab threat that Uganda had started fighting 2 years before then.
 
He also needed strong agricultural ties to sustain the national economy that was on skewers. Israel was willing to offer Arms, agricultural inputs, training for soldiers in Israel's prestigious military and backing in missions against LRA and Al-Shabab. URN has been able to trace down some of the refugees deported from Israel to Kampala under the deal. Nesredin Jemal Hasen, an Ethiopian is national is one of such refugees now stuck in Uganda.
 
Jemal fled fighting in Ethiopia in 2009 and docked in Israel where he was given temporary asylum pending the approval of his refugee status. According to Jemal, he was assured by Israeli officials that upon processing of his documents, he would be granted refugee status. However, Jemal says in 2014 he received a phone call from Inbal Insurance agency, a state owned firm notifying him that he was booked on an Ethiopian airlines flight to Entebbe on June 02.
 
Despite his pleas of ignorance, the caller notified Jemal that the ticket had been cashed in by Inbal Insurance Agency and all that was required of him was to be at the airport on the said date to take his flight back home. Jemal pleaded to remain in Israel but his pleas fell on deaf ears. According to Jemal, he showed up at the airport on the said date and was referred to a man he fondly recalls introducing himself as ‘Amadeus'. Amadeus had booked the tickets for Jemal.
 
He reportedly handed Jemal US $3500 and wished him a safe flight to Uganda. It was then that Jemal realized that, he had ‘formally' accepted to be deported from Israel.  URN traced the origins of Jemal's tickets to agent 0403' at Inbal Insurance agency in Israel. The agency spent UGX 2 million shillings (USD 800) on Jemal's ticket aboard Ethiopian airlines to Entebbe. Jemal now lives in Kampala declined to reveal his location for fear of reprisal once his story goes public. Our reporter also spoke to Barahawi Fransa, another Ethiopian who had fled to Israel to ‘live a good life'.
 
Barahawi says that he fled Ethiopia when the living conditions in the country worsened and were untenable. He arrived in Israel in 2008 and has documents proving that he was granted refugee status. Just like Jemal, Barahawi says that he was called by ‘agent 0403' and was told that he had been booked on a flight to Uganda on June 12th.  An email - which URN has seen - followed the phone-call together with an air ticket and a booking reference linking back to ‘Amadeus'.  Fransa was flown out of Israel from Tel Aviv airport to Addis Ababa before ending up in Uganda. 

Our reporter tried to send an email on the address on the tickets, but it returned an automated response saying there is no such user.  However, our reporter says at least 150 refugees could have been transferred to Uganda already. Dr Rami Gudovitch, a known activist on Israeli refugees describes the process of transferring refugees as 'shopping' adding that, the matter could even be bigger. 



He says the refugees are being arrested in the countries they are being sent to and Uganda is 'certainly one of them'.  URN sought a comment from Apollo David Kazungu, the Commissioner for refugees at the Office of the Prime Minister but he didn't respond.  Kazungu also turned various requests by URN for interviews on the matter in vain. He was however, quoted telling the Associated Press that he ‘is not privy to any deal for the exchange of refugees between Israel and Uganda'