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Refugees fleeing war in Ukraine kept waiting for hours at Israel’s airport

Interior Minister Shaked orders all waiting refugees be moved to hotel, after footage shows people massed in a closed terminal for lengthy periods without basic provisions

Screenshot from Israeli Channel 12 footage, broadcast on March 10, 2022, of refugees from war in Ukraine waiting for hours in crowded conditions at Ben Gurion Airport. (Channel 12 screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Screenshot from Israeli Channel 12 footage, broadcast on March 10, 2022, of refugees from war in Ukraine waiting for hours in crowded conditions at Ben Gurion Airport. (Channel 12 screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Israeli officials said Thursday that they would transfer all Ukrainian refugees awaiting clarity on their entry status from Ben Gurion International Airport to a hotel, after footage showed dozens of refugees being forced to wait at the airport without basic amenities and care.

Footage aired by Channel 12 news showed large numbers of people inside one of the airport’s terminals, with young children sleeping on the floor and on a baggage carousel, as well as an elderly woman being treated after apparently fainting.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett proclaimed earlier Thursday that Israel must “open its doors and hearts” to Ukrainian Jewish refugees and ensure that their immigration and absorption is as smooth as possible. But footage circulating in recent days has shown disturbing treatment for many of those who recently arrived in the country.

Some of the refugees were said to be waiting to enter the country for several days, without being given adequate food or a suitable place to rest. Footage aired by the TV network Thursday shows many people, young and old, sitting in plastic chairs, laying on thin mattresses, or resting on the terminal floor itself.

Families of the refugees said that those who arrived to Israel under the Law of Return, which grants them eligibility for Israeli citizenship, were also among those forced to wait. Another person waiting for his family to be processed said that many in the airport said they were willing to go back to Ukraine after the treatment they received.

Soon after the footage was aired, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said she was issuing an immediate order to change the current policy, and transfer any Ukrainians waiting at Ben Gurion Airport to a hotel where they can stay until their status is clarified.

In the footage, one man was filmed speaking to a relative of his named Olga, who despite waiting for questioning for hours, was told by border officials that she and her families will be allowed to enter Israel “only after some weeks” and that she must return to Ukraine in the meantime.

The Population and Immigration Authority said that the mass of people and their treatment was due to several flights bringing too many refugees at the airport and causing congestion for officials.

Ukrainian arrivals at Ben Gurion Airport, March 10, 2022 (Facebook screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Immigration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata said that the situation at the airport was unacceptable and that she had brought it up with Shaked.

“I recommend that the interior minister should demand answers and lead her teams, reinforce them… So that there will be food, water, diapers, everything they need,” she said. “This is something we cannot accept.”

Tamano-Shata expressed further displeasure with the treatment of the refugees during a cabinet meeting on Thursday, saying: “It’s shameful. It’s causing chaos for us in the world,” according to transcripts published by Channel 12.

“It makes no sense that in the Jewish state, a woman and her daughter arrive from Ukraine and would not be able to take a shower for three days due to immigration policy,” Ben Gurion Airport director Shmuel Zakai was quoted as saying.

An official from the Population and Immigration Authority at the cabinet meeting claimed that Israel does not want to let through some of those who have arrived, since “if they get in, they won’t leave.”

Following the report, Channel 12 reported that Shaked instructed for a permanent representative to be present at the airport, who will contact people on their way to Israel and ensure that those who arrive are eligible to enter and have all the documents needed.

Channel 12 also reported that Israel might soon reach its 5,000-person cap on Ukrainian refugees arriving since the start of the war who are not eligible for citizenship, set by Shaked on Tuesday, with estimates saying that 3,500 have already arrived in Israel.

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