Helping Sudanese refugees in Kenya, slighting them here

'Post' learns that UN asked Israel to carry out eye operations to remove cataracts on refugees in Kenya.

By HAVIV RETTIG
June 28, 2007 03:50
3 minute read.

The government announced plans on Wednesday to dispatch two medical experts to help Sudanese refugees in Kenya, even as it has yet to establish a formal policy regarding the influx of Sudanese refugees into Israel. A senior official in the Foreign Ministry's International Corporation Development Center told The Jerusalem Post that Israel had been approached by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to carry out eye operations to remove cataracts on thousands of Sudanese refugees based in the Kakuma Camp in Kenya. Two doctors will leave for the African country on July 2, and they have already secured medical equipment such as bandages and tools for the operations, the official said. Asked whether she thought it ironic that Israel was helping Sudanese citizens seeking refuge in other nations but failing to assist or formulate policy regarding the hundreds of African refugees here, the official said, "You are right, this is very paradoxical. But it is not the responsibility of the Foreign Ministry to help people here, only those outside of Israel." Meanwhile, the Prime Minister's Office promised on Wednesday to fund and "resolve" the "problematic" situation of almost 200 Sudanese refugees living in a Beersheba hotel, according to the Beersheba Municipality. A PMO representative, meanwhile, contradicted this assertion, saying the city wasn't promised funds. The reported promise came after the Beersheba Municipality on Wednesday afternoon put more than 100 Sudanese refugees who had been living at the city's Neot Hamidbar Hotel on to buses and sent them to Jerusalem, to be dropped off at the capital's Wohl Rose Garden park. A spokesman for Beersheba Mayor Yaakov Turner, meanwhile, told The Jerusalem Post the city had "no problem with the refugees themselves, but just a budgetary problem in [housing] them. These are poor people who didn't do anything wrong, but it's the state's budgetary responsibility." By the time the buses had reached Latrun on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, the Beersheba Municipality ordered them to return, saying the Prime Minister's Office had promised to cover the tens of thousands of shekels per day cost of hosting the refugees, and to resolve the situation permanently by the beginning of next week. The promise was allegedly made during a conversation between PMO Dir.-Gen. Ra'anan Dinur and Turner. Yet a PMO spokesperson told the Post on Wednesday that "nothing was promised regarding funding" in the conversation. The PMO merely told the mayor that the problem would be resolved early next week, in a discussion on the topic convened at the prime minister's behest that will include representatives of the army, police, Welfare and Justice Ministries. Asked for clarification, the municipality insisted that Dinur had explicitly promised the state would fund the hotel bills and other expenses incurred in hosting the refugees. Social activists, meanwhile, criticized the government's handling of the situation. "I have nothing against them sending help to refugees in Kenya, but the government has done nothing to help the refugees here," commented Sigal Rozen from the Hot Line for Migrant Workers, which has been active in recent months in providing assistance to Sudanese families infiltrating across the border with Egypt. An estimated 600 have crossed into Israel in the past month alone. While at first Israel's security forces were arresting the male refugees and holding them in jail, and helping the women and children find shelter in local kibbutzim, in the last two months - due to widespread criticism from human rights organizations and overcrowding - an unofficial policy has been adopted of dropping the families off in the southern city of Beersheba. "These people are just being thrown into the streets," said Ben-Gurion University of the Negev professor Vered Slonim-Nevo, who has established a volunteer program for her students to help the refugees. "Students, charities, even the municipality and other volunteers have taken it upon themselves to help them. (But) this is not a formal system. The government needs to decide how to help them." Rozen added that many of the refugees, including children, lacked basic necessities such as food, clothing and medicine. Both Rozen and Slonim-Nevo said that the situation had become so critical that within the next few days, the students, the Hot Line for Migrant Workers and the local Assaf charity were planning to establish a "tent city" within Beersheba's limits. The government is expected on Thursday to discuss proposals made by Interior Minister Roni Bar-On regarding a formal policy and aid for the Sudanese refugees on Israeli soil. While a spokeswoman for the minister refused to comment on the proposal, some sources believe that it will include a suggestion to transfer the refugees from Israel and move them to a friendly country, such as Kenya.


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