Immigrant Absorption Minister Zeev Boim indicated Tuesday that the government of Israel was ready to allow the imprisoned Sudanese refugees to stay in the country.
"We're about to absorb [them] now," Boim told The Jerusalem Post, following an appearance before the Jewish Agency's Board of Governors.
In his speech, he referred to previous occasions when Israel took in small numbers of non-Jewish refugees, namely Vietnamese and Bosnians.
"We've opened up the gates because we were in that situation not that long before," he said. "We're doing that one way or another with groups from the Sudan, from Darfur."
He called the act "symbolic" and said it was possible because the small numbers mean it's not "a heavy burden on the State of Israel."
He added that the matter was in the process of being resolved, since a "final decision" hadn't been made in the ongoing discussions between his ministry, the Prime Minister's Office and others but that the "attitude" was indeed to "give them status that they will be able to stay in Israel."
Some 200 Sudanese - many from Darfur - had escaped their home country and infiltrated Israel from Egypt. The men are now being held in jails, and women and children are being housed in kibbutzim around the country.
Human rights groups have been pressuring Israel to let them stay here and have filed a High Court of Justice petition on the matter. The state told the court that they are being imprisoned because they come from an enemy state, though it indicated that it had no information that they endangered the country.
"It's the first time we've heard about something like this," Yonatan Berman, a lawyer with the Hot Line for Migrant Workers, said of Boim's statements. "If it's true, we are pleased."
His organization is one of the groups that brought the petition. He said that to his knowledge, so far the solutions Israel tried to find have been to try to deport them to Egypt or send them to other countries.
"To this day, Israel refuses to check if these people are even eligible for refugee status," he said.