Some Ukrainian refugees refused entry to Israel due to translation error – report

Hebrew original asked if applicants had previously stayed in country illegally, but in Ukrainian asked only if they’d ever ‘stayed in Israel’; hundreds may have been affected

Refugees fleeing the fighting in Ukraine arrive at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, on March 15, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Refugees fleeing the fighting in Ukraine arrive at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, on March 15, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Some refugees from Ukraine have been refused entry to Israel due to an error in the Ukrainian translation of a question on entry forms, Kan news reported Wednesday.

The blunder came amid general criticism of the government’s response to the influx of refugees — both those eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return due to Jewish ancestry, and those who are not. The government’s handling of the issue has also been marred by unclear policies, backtracking and occasional infighting.

The Kan report said hundreds of people may have been told they could not come to Israel due to a mistake that occurred when the entry form was translated from Hebrew into Ukrainian.

The question on the form in Ukrainian asks whether the individual has ever previously stayed in Israel — but the Hebrew original asked whether they have ever illegally stayed in Israel. Thus, many answered yes, incorrectly and unwittingly notifying Israeli authorities that they had previously been in the country against the law.

The Population and Immigration Authority did not respond to a query about the error.

It came as officials said Wednesday that 1,223 people with Ukrainian passports had arrived at Ben Gurion Airport in the past 24 hours, 11 of whom were denied entry.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked sets out Israel’s Ukrainian refugee entry policy, at Ben Gurion Airport, March 13, 2022. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

Since the start of fighting when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, over 10,000 Ukrainians have arrived in Israel. Of those, some 2,800 are eligible to immigrate under Israel’s Law of Return or have already, according to Immigration and Absorption Ministry figures. Another 944 of those have left Israel.

In total, over the past three weeks some 6,500 Ukrainians have arrived in Israel who have not immigrated and are not eligible to do so.

Israel’s handling of arrivals previously caused outrage, with some would-be entrants kept waiting for hours and even days at the airport, before Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked last week arranged for them to be accommodated at a hotel.

A leaked back-and-forth from a Tuesday cabinet meeting on the issue also exposed the lack of clarity around what the country’s refugee policy actually is, and how it is supposed to be implemented.

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.

Meanwhile, she 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.

On Wednesday ministers decided that the Social Welfare Ministry would be responsible for dealing with Ukrainian refugees who are not eligible for immigration.

According to Kan, the government is to budget NIS 15 million ($4.6 million) for those displaced peoples, who will be given humanitarian assistance for three months. If the fighting goes on for longer, or they are granted formal refugee status, state services will be extended.

An inter-ministerial administration will be established to oversee the program.

The Welfare Ministry will also provide the refugees with temporary housing at hostels, food assistance, health insurance via insurance companies and emotional support. They will also be provided with clothing, access to daycare and the education system for children, as well as care homes for the elderly. Dozens of Ukrainian and Russian-speaking social workers will be hired to attend to the arrivals.

According to the United Nations, over 2.8 million Ukrainians have now fled their homes since the Russian invasion, with millions more thought to be internally displaced within the country.

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