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Rwanda could take 10,000 refugees from Israel: Minister

Foreign affairs minister says Rwanda is in negotiations to take in about 10,000 asylum seekers from Israel.

African asylum seekers

The foreign affairs minister of Rwanda has confirmed the country is in negotiations with Israel to take in as many as 10,000 African asylum seekers, according to a local Rwandan newspaper.

In an interview with The New Times, Louise Mushikiwabo said the two countries have yet to reach an agreement on how many asylum seekers currently in Israel could eventually be resettled in Rwanda.

"We have had discussions with Israel on receiving some of the immigrants and asylum seekers from this part of Africa who would be willing to come to Rwanda," Mushikiwabo told the newspaper.

"If they are comfortable to come here, we would be willing to accommodate them. How it’s done and their livelihoods once they are here are details that have not been concluded yet," she said.

Mushikiwabo did not say when a possible transfer would take place.

40,000 asylum seekers

The minister's comments come less than a week after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his government would seek to remove 40,000 asylum seekers from the country "without their consent".

"This is very important," Netanyahu said in a statement on Sunday, the same day the Israeli cabinet voted to close a detention centre in the country's southern Negev desert that currently houses just over 1,000 asylum seekers.

Israel is currently home to about 40,000 asylum seekers, according to government figures. That includes 27,500 Sudanese and 7,800 Eritrean asylum seekers, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has reported.

Israeli officials have said they intend to shutter the Holot detention centre within the next four months and give remaining African asylum seekers two options: indefinite detention in Israel, or deportation to a third-country, with or without their consent.

$5,000 per person

According to Israeli daily Haaretz, Israel will pay Rwanda up to $5,000 for each asylum seeker it agrees to take in.

It will also pay each asylum seeker $3,500 to leave Israel and buy their flights out of the country, the newspaper reported.

The United Nations has raised concerns about potential deals to deport asylum seekers to a third country such as Rwanda, however.

"As party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, Israel has legal obligations to protect refugees and other persons in need of international protection," Volker Turk, UNHCR's assistant high commissioner for protection, said in a recent statement.


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