Israel has struck a deal to deport tens of thousands of illegal African migrants to Uganda, Haaretz newspaper reported on Friday.
It said that a court gag order barring identification of the destination country had been lifted at its request, but that the government still refused to give any details of the deal.
Citing unnamed sources, the paper said Israel would finance the migrants’ flights to Uganda and their resettlement there and would apparently give each person $1,500 in pocket money.
Haaretz said the head of the Ugandan government’s refugees department, David Apollo Kazungu, had denied in an e-mail that such an agreement existed.
But it quoted Israeli interior minister Gideon Saar as telling a parliamentary committee this week that a senior Israeli official had obtained Kampala’s assent.
It said he had told the internal affairs committee illegal migrants would be transferred to a third country in an operation to begin at the end of September, after forthcoming Jewish holidays.
Israeli immigration authorities say there are about 55,000 illegal African migrants in the country. Many came by foot through Egypt and slipping through the formerly porous border into Israel, which is now being sealed by a sophisticated system of walls and electronic fences.
In 2012, Israel launched a crackdown, rounding up and deporting 3,920 illegals.
Another 2,000 are being held in a detention centre. They have applied for refugee status, but their requests have yet to be processed.
The government said that while 2,295 people crossed the border illegally in January 2012, only 36 got across in the first part of December.
Rising tensions over the growing number of illegal immigrants exploded into violence in May when a protest in south Tel Aviv turned ugly, with demonstrators smashing African shops and property, chanting “Blacks out!”
In June, the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot reported the government was negotiating to deport up to 2,000 illegal Eritrean immigrants to an unnamed African country in return for supplying it with military, technological and agricultural aid.
While the country was not named, Yediot said the understandings were drafted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s special envoy, Haggai Hadas, after visits to Uganda, Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi and Nigeria.