Israel plans to deport LGBT asylum seekers to Rwanda and Uganda

African migrants demonstrate
African migrants demonstrate with white paint on their faces outside the Embassy of Rwanda in Israel

Israel plans to go ahead with deporting LGBT asylum seekers to Rwanda and Uganda, despite those countries having a track record of persecuting and jailing people for their sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Population, Immigration and Border Authority told The Jerusalem Post that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender asylum seekers did not count as part of an excluded group of people who would not be deported – such as women and children.

“LGBT people are not part of the groups excluded [from deportation],” a Border Authority spokesperson said. “Each case will be examined on its merits.”

The government argues that the migrants have wreaked havoc in south Tel Aviv and that they’re not truly refugees but rather economic migrants. Other cabinet ministers have said that they pose a demographic threat to the country’s Jewish majority.

In Uganda, it’s illegal – “against the law of nature” – to be LGBT, and this may put the deported migrants in harm’s way.

In Rwanda, the legal situation is murkier but there are recorded instances of harassment, physical abuse and arbitrary arrests, said Shira Kupfer, adjunct professor and head of a program for LGBT refugees and asylum seekers coordinator by The Aguda – LGBT Task Force.

“If you deport LGBT refugees to one of these countries, you’re putting them at danger to them, to their lives,” Kupfer told the Post.

Aguda has so far helped a handful of migrants who have claimed LGBT asylum-seeking status. The group thinks that there could be hundreds of LGBT migrants, many of whom are likely to be deeply closeted.

Israel intends to forcibly deport a majority of the 40,000 migrants from Sudan and Eritrea to third countries. If they do not agree, the government plans to jail them indefinitely.

“If I were a refugee and I knew that I was about to be sent to Uganda, I would by far prefer to enter prison here than go to a country where I could end up dead,” Kupfer added.

Israel accepts about 1% asylum seeker requests. In contrast, much of Europe accepts about half of such requests.

In an asylum application from 2016, an LGBT migrant said he was raped and assaulted in his country of origin because of his sexual orientation, Haaretzreported.

In that case, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees recommended asylum, however, the Interior Ministry refused to grant refugee status.

A request to speak to an LGBT refugee asylum seeker was declined, out of concern that an interview could reintroduce psychological trauma.