Police, IDF pass the buck on Africans seeking asylum

The disorganized nature of the government's response to the continuing flow of African refugees via Egypt is attracting increasing criticism. As International Refugee Day is marked on Wednesday, the number of African refugees in Israel has doubled in the last few weeks, and the numbers keep growing. According to Micki Bavly, the representative of the UN High Commission for Refugees in Israel, a third of the refugees are Sudanese, and others come from Nigeria, Eritrea, Ivory Coast and 60 other countries. Today, there are some 850 Sudanese refugees in Israel, 100 of whom are in Israeli jails. The rest are in Eilat and Beersheba. Bavly said that some of the refugees were placed in kibbutzim and moshavim, where they live and work in agriculture as an alternative to incarceration. Three employees of the UN High Commission for Refugees interview the refugees and decide whether to recommend them for political asylum in Israel. They can interview three to four people a day; 1,000 refugees are waiting to speak with them. "The refugees sit and wait for a solution, while the state of Israel cannot send them back... either because it has no diplomatic ties with their countries of origin or because Israel, as a humanitarian country, cannot send them back to the chaos and sometimes genocide they escaped," said Bavly. Israel's response to the issue has been plagued by chaos. Several months ago, Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz instructed the IDF to apprehend infiltrators and send them back to their countries of origin. Today, IDF vehicles take the newly arrived refugees to cities, but both the IDF and the Immigration Police say the illegal aliens fall outside their jurisdiction. Immigration Police spokeswoman Supt. Orit Friedman says the immigration police could only put the refugees in jail. Since there was no procedure for processing them, they could remain behind bards for over a year. The IDF Spokesman's Office said that the army had "no responsibility" for refugees who infiltrate Israel. Early this month, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert instructed the Interior Ministry to form a committee comprised of representatives from all relevant authorities which would draft a coherent policy for dealing with the African refugees. No recommendations have yet been made. "The Interior Ministry has sole responsibility for registering all people who enter Israel. There is a plan to share the burden of Africa refugees with... other countries [in Europe]," an official in the Prime Minister's Office said. "The issue is being examined by all relevant government representatives," the Interior Ministry said in a statement. Meanwhile, Eilat is bearing much of the burden. While the municipality was glad to help the first few hundred refugees, that is no longer the case. "We cannot absorb any more refugees in the city," Eilat Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevi wrote in a letter to the relevant ministers. "In recent months, hundreds of Sudanese refugees entered Eilat. Four hundred of them were absorbed by the city's tourism industry and are employed in city hotels... Eilat is not prepared to absorb more than it already has. Soon... thousands of unemployed refugees will constitute a burden on the city's welfare and educational departments," Yitzhak Halevi wrote. "This is not Beersheba's problem. It's a national problem. [We have] assisted dozens of them... but we won't be able to help out any further" said Beersheba Municipality spokesman Amnon Yosef. "Eilat is filled with Sudanese refugees who no one provided with medical tests, immunized, or explained to them about contraceptive methods... we have to protect our children's health, the city's educational system and the tourism industry," a mother of three told The Jerusalem Post. She expressed concern that the refugees would cause students and employees to leave the city, and called on the government to "step in before it's too late." According to an Amnesty International survey, 59 percent of Israelis think the country is doing enough to care for the Sudanese refugees.