Israel to cap number of non-eligible Ukrainian refugees it accepts — Shaked

Interior minister declines to specify how many refugees who are not eligible for citizenship will be allowed in, says Israel’s priority is to absorb predicted wave of new citizens

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

Ukrainians who fled fighting in Ukraine seen at the Chisinau International Airport in Moldova as they make their way to Israel, March 6, 2022. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Ukrainians who fled fighting in Ukraine seen at the Chisinau International Airport in Moldova as they make their way to Israel, March 6, 2022. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said Monday that Israel will place a cap on the number of Ukrainian refugees allowed in who are not eligible to immigrate to the Jewish state — but did not indicate what that figure would be.

“We will approve some sort of humanitarian cap on people who are not eligible under the Law of Return,” Shaked said to Kan public radio on Monday morning. “In the coming days I will formulate an organized policy, because we have to get this situation in order.”

Shaked declined to specify the number of Ukrainian refugees who are not eligible to become citizens that Israel will be willing to accept. She is thought to favor  placing the cap on entry as low as possible, while Foreign Minister Yair Lapid reportedly wants Israel to accept a greater number.

The Population and Immigration Authority said Monday morning that since the February 24 outbreak of war, 2,792 Ukrainian nationals have arrived in Israel; 129 of them were denied entry for unspecified reasons.

Throughout the month of February, 3,226 Ukrainians landed in Israel; 248 of them were denied entry and 2,134 exited, the authority said.

Under the Law of Return, anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent is eligible to become an Israeli citizen.

Shaked claimed that only around 10% of those who have entered Israel since the war began are eligible for citizenship. The minister said that Israel’s primary goal is to absorb fleeing Jews and others who can become citizens, as opposed to all refugees.

“Israel has a huge challenge to absorb those who are eligible under the Law of Return,” she said. “We expect tens of thousands, we could reach hundreds of thousands if a large number come from Russia and other former Soviet nations. That’s our central mission.”

While Ukraine boasts a large Jewish community, it is unclear if such a figure will materialize, and the Jewish Agency has indicated that there does not appear to be a wave of Russian immigration in the works.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks at a conference in Jerusalem, February 21, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

While Israel is focused on preparing for a wave of new immigrants, “of course as a Western nation we will also take in refugees generally,” she said.

Shaked said a new policy will be announced in the coming days, and in the meantime, any Ukrainian refugees who show up in Israel are allowed to enter on a tourist visa after a brief inspection. Currently, Ukrainian refugees without first-degree relatives in Israel must provide an NIS 10,000 deposit, to be returned to them upon exiting.

The deposit is held as a guarantee that the Ukrainians will eventually leave Israel, as the country rarely grants refugee status to non-Jews, and instead allows them temporary entry as tourists. Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai, who flew to Poland on Monday, has called for canceling the deposit requirement, calling it “illogical and inhumane.”

“We see that most of the people who are coming are relatives [of Israelis], which is understandable,” Shaked said. “But in the coming days we will have to formulate some sort of criteria, to provide work visas to a certain number of individuals. The situation is changing day to day.”

From 2018 to 2021, over 15,000 Ukrainians were denied entry, many of them due to fears of illegal immigration, Haaretz reported. On the eve of the war, Ukrainians made up nearly one in four people in Israel on expired visas, the paper said.

Shaked claimed that “there is no country that can open its doors to anyone who wants without any limit, particularly not a country that is small like Israel.”

Approximately 400 new immigrants from Ukraine — including around 100 orphans — landed in Israel on Sunday on flights from Poland, Moldova and Romania.

The UN estimates that more than 1.5 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia began its invasion last month. The vast majority have exited via Poland, though many have continued onward since.

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