Israel releases 58 jailed African migrants who refused to be deported to Rwanda


Asylum seekers protesting at the Holot detention center in the southern Negev Desert of Israel, Feb. 17, 2014. (Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)

(JTA) — The Israeli government has released 58 African asylum seekers being held in a detention center after a plan to deport over 200 more of them to Rwanda fell through.

Israel announced the release Wednesday and will now look to negotiate a deal with Uganda, even though the African country does not want to accept the migrants.

“We will insist that the airlines return [the asylum seekers] to the country where they came from,” Uganda’s foreign affairs minister, Henry Okello Oryem, said in a statement Tuesday. “We do not have a contract, any understanding, formal or informal, with Israel for them to dump their refugees here.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had brokered a deal with the U.N. High Commission for Refugees to allow thousands of migrants to stay in Israel and resettle thousands of others in Western countries, such as Germany and Canada. He froze the deal on Monday, hours after announcing and praising it, and officially canceled it on Tuesday.

Israel had originally offered any migrant who decided to leave $3,500 and a plane ticket.

Up to 40,000 African asylum seekers remain in Israel, their fate still unknown.

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