'Israel gov't inspects every refugee with fine-toothed comb'

Ukraine embassy: While Russia commits genocide, Israel nitpicking over each refugee

Kyiv’s mission to Israel calls for more compassion and openness toward Ukrainians fleeing war, says it has made proposals to Interior Minister Shaked

Ukrainian immigrants to Israel who fled fighting in Ukraine arrive on a rescue flight at Ben Gurion Airport, on March 17, 2022. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Ukrainian immigrants to Israel who fled fighting in Ukraine arrive on a rescue flight at Ben Gurion Airport, on March 17, 2022. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Ukraine’s embassy in Israel on Thursday intensified its criticism of Jerusalem’s policy toward refugees fleeing the Russian invasion, days after Israel said it had eased its restrictions to allow more asylum-seekers into the country.

The treatment of Ukrainians who flee to Israeli soil “is not covering the main challenges for non-Jewish refugees from Ukraine,” the embassy said in a statement posted online.

“Russia is committing genocide of Ukrainians, killing thousands of civilians, while the Israeli government inspects each and every refugee from Ukraine with a fine-toothed comb,” the statement said.

The government has come under heavy fire for its response to the influx of refugees — particularly those who are not eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return due to Jewish ancestry — and its handling of the issue has been marred by unclear policies, backtracking, and occasional infighting.

The embassy called on Israeli policymakers to show more compassion and relax entry requirements. It said Israel should cancel a cap on the number of refugees allowed in and halt other “artificial obstacles toward women and children fleeing war-torn Ukraine.”

The embassy said Israel should allow in any Ukrainian who has a family member legally residing in Israel, let them stay until the war ends with no prior approval needed, and not count this group in any quotas.

People in Israel should also be able to host their Ukrainian friends through a legal mechanism, the embassy said, and Ukrainians in Israel should also be allowed to work.

Illustrative: Jewish immigrants fleeing the war in Ukraine on a rescue flight sponsored by Keren Hayesod arrive at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, on March 9, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The statement asserted that any refugees coming to Israel are likely doing so because they have family or friends in Israel who are willing to host them.

The embassy said the suggestions have been presented to Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked. Shaked has played a central role in the ongoing tumult over Israel’s refugee policy.

“We hope that the government, whose nation experienced the refugee life throughout its existence, will embrace those who are saving their own lives and lives of their children — looking for a temporary shelter from horrors of war,” the embassy said.

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 them have left Israel.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked holds a press conference at Ben Gurion International Airport, announcing new criteria for refugee admissions, on  March 13, 2022. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

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 Shaked last week arranged for them to be accommodated at a hotel.

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.

A person mourns next to a covered body near a residential building that was hit by the debris from a downed rocket in Kyiv on March 17, 2022. (Fadel Senna/AFP)

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.

The Immigration and Absorption Ministry announced on Thursday that over 5,000 new immigrants from Ukraine “and its environs” have arrived in Israel since the start of the war.

According to the ministry, some 60-65 percent of the 5,070 immigrants — around 3,000 people — that arrived in Israel as of Thursday afternoon were from Ukraine. The rest were said to be from Russia and Belarus.

According to the United Nations, over 3 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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