(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Interior Minister Roni Bar-On met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Monday to present his recommendations for a government policy on the the growing number of refugees entering Israel from Africa.
That policy will remain secret until a meeting Thursday where officials from the Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry, and Internal Security Ministry can evaluate it, said a spokeswoman from the Prime Minister's Office.
In the past month, 600 refugees have crossed into Israel from its southern border with Egypt. More than 50 were detained on the border on Sunday night alone.
More than a quarter of the refugees are from Darfur, while the rest come from countries such as Eritrea, Ghana, the Ivory Coast and Ethiopia. The government has no policy or laws on refugees at the moment, leading to growing tensions between the IDF and Border Police over how to deal with the problem.
Currently, security forces process the refugees to document their age and country of origin, and then drop them off in front of local police stations in the South. The refugees are then left to fend for themselves, with impromptu volunteers from various student and non-profit organizations using private donations to assist with housing and feeding the refugees.
"As the government continues to drag its feet in coming up with a policy, we are running out of facilities and equipment to help these people," said Elisheva Milikowsky, a student at Ben-Gurion University who began a student organization to aid refugees, at a meeting of the Knesset's Interior Committee last week.
Over a month ago, Olmert tasked Bar-On with drafting a policy for the refugees. Bar-On formed a committee on the issue which considered various options such as asking for the help of the United Nations in sending the refugees back to friendly African countries. It is unclear what the minister presented to Olmert Monday, or how long it would take to implement any refugee policy.
Meanwhile on Sunday, the IDF and Border Police resumed their policy of jailing male refugees whom they find crossing the border.
Two Sudanese men were arrested Sunday and jailed by the IDF. Two months ago, security forces had unofficially stopped jailing asylum seekers due to widespread criticism from human rights organizations and overcrowding in jails.
The jailing policy upsets the women and children of the jailed men, who are accustomed to a traditional culture where the men provide the food and shelter for a family.