Rwanda refuses to discuss migrants with Israeli opposition

African migrants and Israeli activists demonstrate outside the Embassy of Rwanda in Herzliya against the Israeli government’s policy to forcibly deport African refugees and asylum seekers to Rwanda and Uganda. (AFP)
Updated 09 February 2018

Rwanda refuses to discuss migrants with Israeli opposition

KIGALI:Rwanda said Friday it wanted no part in Israel’s “internal politics” after turning away two opposition Israeli lawmakers who wanted to discuss their country’s controversial plan to deport African migrants and asylum seekers.
The MPs said they had come to Rwanda on a “fact-finding mission” to discuss Israel government policy to expel about 38,000 migrants who have entered the country illegally, mainly Eritreans and Sudanese.
As the migrants could face danger or imprisonment if returned to their homelands, Israel is offering to relocate them to an unnamed third country, which aid workers say is Rwanda or Uganda.
But Rwandan authorities refused to meet the Israeli lawmakers.
“Rwanda cannot be a playground for Israeli internal politics. We deal with governments and we only receive foreign officials that are announced and cleared by their foreign ministries,” Foreign Affairs minister Olivier Nduhungirehe told AFP.
“If any Israeli MP has any issue with his or her government about African migrants who are in Israel, he or she should deal with the Israeli government, not ours.”
The Israli government has given the migrants an ultimatum: leave by April 1 or risk being imprisoned indefinitely.
Public opposition to the plan in Israel has been slow to build, but some Israeli airline pilots have reportedly said they will not fly forced deportees.
“We are on a fact-finding mission to Rwanda because we want to ascertain the truth,” Michal Rozin, an Israeli MP for the leftwing opposition party Meretz, told AFP.
“We sent out requests for meetings with Rwandan officials over the illegally planned deportation of Eritrean asylum seekers to Rwanda from Israel, but officials declined to meet us and we wonder why,” she said.
Both countries have denied a secret deal to take in the migrants is in place.
The UN refugee agency has said about 4,000 migrants were deported from Israel to Rwanda between 2013 and 2017.
However only seven remain in Rwanda, according to UNHCR, with many fleeing poor conditions to neighboring countries — particularly Uganda — or heading for Europe.
“It is clear that once the refugees are sent to Rwanda from Israel, they are not offered the basic necessities like jobs and housing that they are promised,” said Mossi Raz, a Meretz MP and the other member of the Israeli delegation.
“That is why we insist that any deal that is in place to force their deportation to Rwanda should be immediately abandoned,” he said.
The UN has condemned Israel’s expulsion policy, which offers each migrant $3,500 (2,900 euros) and a plane ticket, as incoherent and unsafe.

Rohingya volunteers get UN training to deal with monsoon threat 

Rohingya refugee men make sand bags in preparation for the upcoming monsoon season in Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhia, Bangladesh. (AFP / Munir Uz Zaman)
Updated 39 min 2 sec ago

Rohingya volunteers get UN training to deal with monsoon threat 

  • UNHCR identifies 24,000 Rohingya refugees at ‘high risk’ of landslides and floods as Bangladesh’s monsoon season approaches.
  • Volunteers in refugee camps are being trained as first responders in emergency by the UN agency.

DHAKA, Bangladesh: “Initially we were a bit scared, but after acquiring disaster preparedness skills, we are feeling stronger,” said Nur Mohammad Majhi, a Rohingya community outreach member, in the refugee camp of Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. 

Majhi is one of the several Rohingya refugees who have received disaster training from UNHCR to deal with landslides and floods in the approaching monsoon season.

“We want to stand by the people, stand with courage and be ready to rescue if needed,” Majhi told Arab News.

The UNHCR has completed training for 400 Rohingya safety unit volunteers, who will be deployed as first responders in emergency situations such as search-and-rescue activities during floods and landslides. The volunteers will work closely with other government emergency services.

Another 300 Rohingya volunteers will complete their training next week. 

“We are extremely concerned about the physical safety of tens of thousands of Rohingyas who live in overcrowded settlements in Bangladesh and the danger of an ‘emergency within an emergency,’” Caroline Gluck, UNHCR senior spokesperson at Cox’s Bazar, told Arab News.

The emergency response training has changed the mindset of the Rohingya refugees and given them confidence to deal with accidents and large-scale emergencies. 

“We’ve learnt a lot. Most people still don’t know what help is out there and we can help them,” said Ayub Khan, a Rohingya outreach member who recently attended a psychological first-aid training course run by the UNHCR.

“Now we can share the knowledge, the information we have. We can help people to worry less and bring some comfort,” Khan said. 

“I had no clue what to do during landslides. I had sleepless nights during the past few weeks fearing the natural disasters of the rainy season,” said Jamila Khatun, a refugee in Balukhali camp. “Now I feel much better and confident as the volunteers have educated me on how to tackle these emergencies.” 

The UNHCR has adopted an integrated approach to deal with this emergency. Volunteers in different groups have received separate training on basic awareness and mitigation, psychological first aid, and emergency and cyclone preparedness. 

Despite the extensive humanitarian support for Rohingyas, the UN agency has said 200,000 Rohingyas living on hill slopes face risky conditions. “Out of these, 24,000 are at high risk of landslides,” Gluck said. 

Agencies have relocated more than 21,800 refugees to safer locations, according to Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG). The UNHCR is trying to relocate some families inside the existing settlements to lessen the risks. 

The UNHCR is also working to stabilize slopes and improve pathways with sandbags and bamboo. Together with the World Food Program, UNHCR is also improving drainage and widening a canal to improve water flow and avoid flooding. 

“We have been working with the Bangladesh authorities to build and pave the main arterial road from the north to south of the biggest settlement, Kutupalong-Balukhali, which is crucial for access and a lifeline for aid,” said Gluck.

Bangladesh is now home to 1.3 million Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar in the wake of military offensives in Rakhine state last year.

About 100,000 Rohingyas will be moved to the island of Bhashan Char in the Bay of Bengal this summer, authorities said.