Erdan optimistic about Liberian refugees' future

Says he believes interior minister will allow 90 Liberian refugees to extend stay here.

The plight of Liberian refugees living in Israel and who are slated for expulsion by the end of the month may finally be resolved, according to Likud MK Gilad Erdan. "I've heard leaks and hints that the interior minister [Roni Bar-On] will extend their stay" past the March 31 deadline by which the 90 Liberians will be told to leave the country, Erdan told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. "I'm optimistic," he added. While Liberia has stabilized politically following the November 2005 election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as president of the war-torn country, the new president has asked countries around the world to wait before sending Liberians back to the country. It is feared that tensions among the various tribes in the country in the wake of a 14-year civil war that killed some 200,000 by its end three years ago will surge into bloody conflict once again when large numbers of refugees return to reclaim what was theirs. "Most of the Liberians in Israel are from the Mandingo tribe," said the group's lawyer Ari Syrquin, "and they know exactly who killed their siblings or stole their property. They were often neighbors from different tribes. These people are waiting for them, and might kill them if they return." On February 22, the Liberian foreign minister sent a letter to the Israeli Foreign Ministry asking to extend the Liberians' stay in the country, but Israel has so far ignored the request. In January, Syrquin appealed to the interior minister to take up the issue, but repeated requests were ignored. Now, however, an appeal to the Knesset may have turned the tide. The Knesset Interior Committee will meet Wednesday to discuss the issue, and senior Interior Ministry officials will attend, Erdan said. "I'm not asking for citizenship or permanent residency," added Syrquin, "just for an extension of one year while the situation in Liberia improves... If someone is here for over 10 years, I think he has some right to have his situation examined carefully before he is sent away. There is no need to rush to kick them out."