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Israel to grant Darfur refugees citizenship

ICC Note

The measure taken by Israeli governments is applauded but it is said to be not enough as it excludes the Southern Sudanese.

By Ilene R. Prusher

September 6, 2007 Sudan (Christian Science Monitor) – Israel said Wednesday that it would grant citizenship to several hundred refugees from the Darfur region of Sudan, following a burgeoning debate over how to handle the influx of refugees from the war-torn African nation into Israel.

Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit said he would work with the United Nations to set a quota for granting citizenship to Darfurian refugees in Israel , who number between 300 and 500.

” Israel , with its history, must offer assistance,” Mr. Sheetrit told a gathering of activists in Petach Tikva, near Tel Aviv. “It can’t stand by and shut its eyes. But a quota must be set.”

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Israel ‘s decision was met with praise from groups that have come to the aid of the refugees. But most expressed concern that the decision was limited to those from Darfur, and that Israel was not examining all its applicants for refugee status individually.

“We commend this decision and we’re very glad that someone who, a year ago, was considered an infiltrator from an enemy country will now be treated like a regular immigrant coming from abroad,” says Romm Lewkowicz, the spokesman for the Hotline for Migrant Workers, one of the foremost Israeli groups aiding the Sudanese refugees. Sudan ‘s Islamic government remains hostile toward Israel .

“But we don’t think that these decisions should be based on the goodwill of this minister or that,” he says. ” Israel should evaluate on a case-by-case basis, in line with international refugee conventions that Israel has signed. We still have an article of law saying Israel won’t check individual cases of any refugee or migrant coming from an enemy country, and so long as this still holds, we haven’t achieved our main goals.”

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Israelis have complained about the use of that policy, as well as the possibility of future deportations of Sudanese refugees. In Israel , a nation of many refugees, the Sudanese issue has generated much concern, but many also worry about being overwhelmed by African migrants who may not be fleeing imminent danger, as they have already gained refuge in Egypt .

The range of political responses indicate the divided feelings over the issue. Several prominent members of the Knesset, Israel ‘s parliament, signed a petition demanding that Darfurians not be deported. But Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has instructed his minister of Internal Security to work on building a more serious fence or barrier to keep infiltrators out. Currently, several parts of the border are guarded with coils of barbed wire that have proved to be fairly easy to overcome.

Groups also worried that Wednesday’s decision was a signal that the Israeli government would make a distinction between refugees from Darfur and other Sudanese.

“This is the right humanitarian decisions and it’s the right Jewish decision, but we urge the government to go the extra mile and to offer citizenship to all the Sudanese refugees in Israel , since Darfuris are only about a third of them,” says Eitan Schwartz, of the Coalition for the Advancement of Refugees from Darfur (CARD). “The government sees the people from south Sudan as economic migrants rather than genocide survivors.”

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