Since the start of fighting when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, over 12,600 Ukrainians have arrived in Israel, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said Friday.
Of those, some 3,650 are eligible to immigrate under Israel’s Law of Return or have already, according to Shaked.
Another 1,050 of them have left Israel either by choice or have been refused entry, she added. According to the Ynet news site, 290 were denied entry.
That means there are some 7,900 Ukrainian refugees currently in Israel who are not eligible for Israeli citizenship.
Shaked capped the number of refugees ineligible for citizenship to be admitted at 5,000 (in addition to 20,000 who were in the country before war erupted). Amid a public outcry, however, she later announced that any relatives of Israelis will also be granted entry without a cap.
However, it remained unclear what proximity of relatives exactly would be acceptable.
The issue of Ukrainian refugees has been a highly contentious one in Israel. Shaked, with the support of many right-wing lawmakers, initially severely limited the number of refugees who could enter the country, and required the families of those coming in to put down large monetary deposits that would only be returned upon their exit from the country.
Some would-be entrants were kept waiting for hours and even days at the airport as well.
In the face of a public outcry against these practices, as well as criticism from government ministers, the Interior Ministry first did away with the deposit requirement, and then arranged for the refugees to be accommodated at a hotel while their paperwork was processed.
Shaked first announced last week that Israel was preparing to take in 100,000 refugees who are eligible for citizenship under the Law of Return, meaning people with at least one Jewish grandparent.
On Thursday, she reportedly caused further tumult over Israel’s refugee policy, after saying there would be “no chance” Israel would pay for medical insurance for refugees who have arrived in Israel.
Though the government has eased its policies on refugees, it has continued to face criticism for its handling of the issue.
On Wednesday, Kan news reported that the Population and Immigration Authority had unnecessarily deported dozens of Ukrainian refugees because one of its forms had a translation error, resulting in applicants inadvertently declaring that they had stayed in Israel illegally in the past — when they thought they were saying only that they had previously visited the country.
Over 100,000 Ukrainians fled the country in the past 24 hours, the UN said Friday, pushing the total number of refugees to more than 3.1 million since the conflict began.