High Court orders state to clarify entry cap on Ukrainian refugees

Judges seek explanation on why bilateral visa deal between Israel, Ukraine doesn’t apply to those fleeing Russian invasion

Ukrainians who fled the fighting in Ukraine land at Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv on March 17, 2022. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Ukrainians who fled the fighting in Ukraine land at Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv on March 17, 2022. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

The High Court of Justice ordered the state Wednesday to clarify why it is capping the number of Ukrainian refugees it is letting in, despite a years-old diplomatic agreement that allows Ukrainians to enter the country automatically with three-month tourist visas.

The state was given three weeks to respond to the petition, filed by an Israeli attorney on behalf of the Ukrainian embassy.

Responding to the same petition last month, the state said refugees arriving in Israel from Ukraine amid the Russian invasion of their country were different than tourists and not included in the exemption.

“It is clear that those arriving in Israel after having to leave their homes in Ukraine due to the war come for an unknown period of time,” as opposed to tourists coming for no longer than three months, the state said at the time.

But the explanation didn’t seem to satisfy the court, which on Wednesday demanded clarification by May 1.

The three-member panel of judges — led by Chief Justice Esther Hayut — rejected a request by attorney Tomer Warsha, who filed the High Court appeal, to issue an injunction blocking the government from enforcing its refugee policy.

The Ukrainian embassy in Israel thanked the court and called for the government to begin letting in all refugees without waiting for a court ruling.

Jewish immigrants fleeing from war zones in Ukraine arrive at the Israeli immigration and absorption office at Ben Gurion Airport, March 15, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“We expect the Israeli government to enable Ukrainian citizens to come to Israel at such times, not by force of a judicial ruling – but mainly by force of a humanitarian and moral approach,” it said in a statement. “The Embassy hopes that the Israeli government will approve the entrance of Ukrainian citizens without final judgment but in the spirit of respect of the bilateral non-visa regime between Ukraine and Israel.”

The state told the court this week that 13,272 Ukrainian refugees who don’t fall under the Law of Return have entered the country so far, 7,585 of whom have family in Israel while 5,447 do not, according to the Haaretz daily.

Under the current policy, announced last month by Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, anyone fleeing Ukraine who is eligible for citizenship as well as anyone who has a family member in Israel will be granted entry into Israel. Another 5,000 refugees who do not meet those criteria will be allowed in, on top of 20,000 Ukrainians who were in Israel on expired visas when the war began and who will be allowed to stay.

The High Court agreed last month to hear the appeal, rejecting a request by the state to throw the case out.

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