darfur upfront 88 298.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The government decided on Sunday that the 498 refugees from the war-torn Sudanese province of Darfur who have crossed into Israel illegally via the Egyptian Sinai will be allowed to stay. All other illegal refugees, however, will be deported back to Africa.
The Darfur refugees will be absorbed after each individual has been given security clearance. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert explained that the move was Israel's contribution to the worldwide effort on behalf of the Darfur refugees.
But Israel's humanitarian gesture is a one-off, and limited in scope.
The government decision made it clear that all other African refugees will be deported, either directly to Egypt or via Egypt to their country of origin.
Representatives from the Interior and Defense Ministries will consult with representatives from the UN High Commission on Refugees to ensure that those selected for deportation will not be endangered by being sent home.
The new policy has been in force since the prime minister reached agreement with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak earlier in the summer.
The deal established a policy of 'hot return' under which illegal refugees were deported quickly back across the Sinai border.
A new interministerial committee has been set up to deal with the illegal refugees. The committee will be chaired by the head of the Interior Ministry's Population Registry, Yaakov Ganot.
Olmert told the ministers, "I hope that people who cross into Israel illegally are not given permission by the courts to stay. Most of those arriving are migrant workers and we all know what the social implications would be if we allowed such people and their children to remain."
At the same time, Olmert stressed that the Egyptians have promised not to return any refugees to their country of origin if such a move would endanger their lives.
A special Knesset hearing will be held on Monday to consider the fate of Sudanese refugees in Israel. The hearing, to be attended by 26 MKs from across the political spectrum, was initiated by MKs Ran Cohen (Meretz) and Dov Kheinin (Hadash.)
Sixty-three MKs have recently signed a petition calling on the government not to deport Sudanese refugees to Egypt because of the dangers the refugees face there.
Meanwhile, activists working on behalf of the Sudanese refugees in Israel welcomed the government's decision to allow almost 500 refugees to stay, but argued that more must be done.
A joint statement put out by the Hotline for Migrant Workers, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and Physicians for Human Rights said Israel was not entitled to close the gates to those seeking refuge and was not entitled to carry out deportations without due process.
The activist organizations want the criteria for who gets asylum to be enshrined in law and not to be left to the whim of one minister or another.