JERUSALEM — Israel has begun sending dozens of African migrants to Uganda, an Israeli official said Wednesday, a move that has sparked concerns that they are being coerced into going to a country that may not keep them safe.
The resettlement of people in Uganda, and perhaps other countries, marks a new phase in Israel’s campaign to rid itself of thousands of Africans who have poured into the country in recent years.
Migrants and activists said the arrangement, which includes a one-way ticket and a stipend, is questionable because it is unclear if there is an official agreement with Uganda that would secure the migrants’ status. They said the new arrivals risk deportation to their home countries, where they may face conflict or persecution.
Uganda, for its part, denied any deal. The Israeli official said Israel paid $3,500 each in recent weeks to about 30 migrants who agreed to leave for Uganda, though he, too, said there was no formal agreement in place. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media on the matter.
Israel officials say the relocations are done on a voluntary basis.
About 50,000 Africans, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan, have poured into Israel in recent years across the southern border with Egypt.
The Africans say they are asylum-seekers fleeing persecution and danger. Israeli officials say they are looking for employment, but the nation does not deport them because they could face danger in their conflict-ridden homelands. Critics say Israel has dragged its feet on reviewing the migrants’ claims for refugee status.
Israel has grappled with how to deal with the influx, which has caused friction with locals and alarmed authorities who say Israel’s Jewish character is threatened by the presence of the Africans.
Israel has built a fence along the border with Egypt, all but stopping the influx, and it passed a law that allows for the migrants’ detention.