Uganda on Thursday denied it had agreed to receive thousands of African migrants as part a deal with Israel.

The denial came a day after Israel launched the programme to force some 38,000 migrants, mainly Eritreans and Sudanese, to leave the country.

Israel has not clearly said where the migrants will go, but tacitly recognises it is too dangerous to return the Sudanese and Eritreans home.

As a result, according to activists in Israel, it has signed deals with Rwanda and Uganda, which agree to accept departing migrants on condition they consent to the arrangement.

Uganda, however, said it had made no such deal.

“Uganda is disturbed by these reports,” Foreign Affairs Minister Henry Okello Oryem told AFP. “We have no such agreement with the government of Israel to send refugees here.”

There was no immediate reaction from Rwanda.

Under Israel’s programme, migrants have until the end of March to leave. Each will receive a plane ticket and $3,500 (2,900 euros) to do so, and those who remain will face arrest.

In Israel on Wednesday, Adi Drori-Avraham, from an NGO called ASSAF (Aid Organisation for Refugees and Asylum Seekers), told AFP: “From what we know, Uganda is a party to the amended agreement, allowing that people can be coerced into leaving.”

“It has published a denial, although I have to say that Uganda has for years been denying that it has some kind of deal with Israel,” he said.

“But we see that thousands arrive there. So, I don’t know how much Uganda’s denials should be taken seriously.”