Some 140 Ukrainian citizens who sought to enter Israel were detained for hours at Ben Gurion International Airport on Saturday, a day after dozens of Israelis were temporarily detained and prevented from entering Ukraine.
The incidents occurred amid a sharp rise in the number of Ukrainians refused entry to Israel over the past months.
“All the passengers were sent to a special interview, and their passports were confiscated,” a Ukrainian tourist told the Ynet news site.
“In the interview, they questioned the purpose of the visit, [asked about] relatives in Israel, a place of work in Ukraine, took our fingerprints and more. After the interview, they told us to wait, when we had no passports and no suitcases. We were led, a group of about 30 people, in sealed corridors to some cellar without [cellphone] reception, and they said they would keep us here as long as they needed. They did not explain the reasons.”
The tourist claimed that later at the Ukrainian embassy he was told that the upholding was part of Israel’s response to the detention of Israelis in Ukraine.
In Friday’s incident, the Israelis detained in Ukraine were released following the intervention of the embassy in Kiev, Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said.
A number of the Israelis said it was not clear why they were not being allowed into Ukraine and the Foreign Ministry said it had instructed the embassy to seek a clarification.
Video from the airport showed a group of Israelis arguing with security guards and saying they had been at the airport for over 24 hours.
According to Ynet, 4,430 Ukrainians were denied entry to Israel last year, up from 1,400 in 2017, despite the two countries having a visa free travel agreement for their citizens.
Israel turned away 19,000 people in 2018, an all-time record.
The Globes business daily reported in December that tourists from Eastern European countries are often scrutinized more because they are more likely coming to work illegally in the country and sometimes to immigrate unlawfully.