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According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 1,250 Sudanese refugees have entered Israel in the past six months. Of those, 230, or 18 percent, are from Darfur, where a government-supported genocide is in progress.
The UNHCR has granted all of these Sudanese the same status, recognizing them as "sur place" refugees, until their individual claims are evaluated.
"Sur place" means "on the place" in French. These refugees, unlike the usual ones, attain refugee status after departure from their countries of habitual residence. Either because of events in their country of origin or as a result of the refugees' activities in the host country, they are in fear of prosecution, entitling them to the status of refugees.
Micki Bavly, the UNHCR's Israel representative, says that whether or not the Sudanese refugees were prosecuted in Sudan, they are now in fear of prosecution in their country of origin because of their sojourn in Israel.
Now that the refugees are in its jurisdiction, Israel, which joined the UNHCR in 2002, is prohibited by UNHCR codes to return them to their country of origin. But, according to the UNHCR, Israel is allowed to send the "sur place" refugees to Egypt or to any other country that is not their country of origin.
Bavly says Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's plan is to return to Egypt those who have no personal claims to refugee status, something that is allowed under UNHCR rules.
For the moment, the refugees must wait for a decision on their status. "They are coming from an enemy country according to Israeli law. As such, Israel refuses to keep them but does not send them back to their country of origin. Although the law says they have to be detained, most of them have been released and are working as well as earning a living, awaiting a decision," Bavly says.