Israel is preparing to deport LGBT asylum-seekers to Uganda and Rwanda, two countries with a history of homophobic violence.
According to the Jerusalem Post, the Population, Immigration and Border Authority does not consider LGBT refugees a protected class, like women and children, who are usually safe from deportation. “LGBT people are not part of the groups excluded,” a Border Authority spokesperson said. “Each case will be examined on its merits.”
The country has seen a large influx of immigrants from Africa in recent years, though critics argue they’re not truly refugees but merely economic migrants. (Israel accepts about 1% of requests for asylum, as compared to most Europe countries, which acce accepts about half of such requests.) The government recently announced plans to deport a majority of the 40,000 migrants from Sudan and Eritrea to other countries. According to the Post many will been sent to Rwanda and Uganda, both of which have track records of anti-LGBT abuse.
In Uganda, same-sex relations are against the law and “aggravated homosexuality” is punishable by up to life in prison. Brutal violence against LGBT people is common, as authorities often turn a blind eye or even participate. There is no law against homosexuality in Rwanda, but harassment, extortion, and arbitrary arrests are not uncommon. The Episcopal Archbishop of Rwanda referred to homosexuality as “moral genocide.”
“If you deport LGBT refugees to one of these countries, you’re putting them at danger to them, to their lives,” said Shira Kupfer, who runs a program for LGBT refugees in Haifa. Kupfer added that if she was a refugee, “I would by far prefer to enter prison here than go to a country where I could end up dead.”
In 2016, an asylum-seeker from Africa reported being raped and beaten in his home country because he was gay. But despite a recommendation from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the Interior Ministry refused to recognize him as a refugee.
Last month, representatives from the LGBT rights group Aguda asked the Justice Ministry to protect LGBT individuals from deportation if they faced danger in their homeland. But the Ministry claimed existing process “provides a suitable solution under the circumstances to the fears that have been raised.”
“Our position is that sexual orientation isn’t protected by the [U.N. Refugee Convention], and this is an unjustified expansion of the convention,” said a representative.
Aid groups say its hard to estimate how many LGBT refugees there are in Israel, as many fear exposure even within the country, where they can face retaliation from their countrymen.