Ukrainian woman to stay in Israel, judge rules, citing ‘human compassion’

Refugee, who was denied asylum in the past, describes her perilous journey from Kyiv to Israel

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

A woman waves a Ukrainian national flag during a protest against Russia's military invasion of Ukraine, in Israel's Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv, March 12, 2022. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
A woman waves a Ukrainian national flag during a protest against Russia's military invasion of Ukraine, in Israel's Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv, March 12, 2022. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

A Ukrainian woman who recently arrived in Israel illegally and was slated to be deported will remain in the country for now, the Tel Aviv District Court ruled on Monday.

Judge Michal Agmon-Gonen wrote in her ruling that “we mustn’t send away those who have escaped the horrors of war. How can one witness the refugee convoys of mostly women and children escaping the heavily bombarded Kyiv, many of whom die on the way, and order her to return?!”

Agmon-Gonen’s decision came after the unnamed Ukrainian woman appealed a decision by the Population and Immigration Authority to deport her, due to a previous attempt of hers to stay in the country illegally.

According to the verdict, the Ukrainian citizen had submitted a request to be recognized as an asylum seeker in Israel in the past, long before Russian troops invaded Ukraine, and had been denied.

Years later, as war loomed over Europe, she described to the court how she had spent eight days in hiding in a basement in Kyiv while the city was repeatedly bombarded by Russian troops, and how, without any money, she managed to reach Slovakia, where she slept on a boat in the harbor because she did not know anyone there.

She said she decided to come to Israel after a man she knew immigrated to the Jewish state a few years earlier and suggested she join him until the war was over.

The Population and Immigration Authority refused to allow her to reenter the country and ordered her to board a plane back to Slovakia.

“The person in question was in Israel before. During her last stay, she requested asylum, was denied and asked to leave. Now, after changing her identity, she landed in Israel and is refused entry due to the specified reasons,” a statement issued by the Population and Immigration Authority read.

The woman’s alleged past in Israel did not sway Agmon-Gonen, who said that while she would need to return to Slovakia and not Kyiv, considering “the complete lack of financial capability or acquaintances there,” as well as “the trauma she has suffered,” forcing her to go back at this time would be wrong.

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)

“I believe that for now [the state] should wait and allow her and others in her position to remain in Israel,” she said. “These times require compassion, human compassion.”

Agmon-Gonen issued a temporary injunction preventing the woman’s deportation, giving the Population and Immigration Authority two weeks to respond to the ruling.

The Ukrainian refugee in question is one among 17 others who have been denied entry into Israel due to previous attempts of entering the country illegally. They include women with children, including an infant who is only 10 days old, according to a Channel 12 news report.

Agmon-Gonen’s unusual ruling highlighted the difficulties experienced by Ukrainians without Jewish ties who seek refuge in Israel.

Screen capture from undated video showing Ukrainian refugees who were denied entry to Israel, in a holding area at Ben Gurion Airport. (Ynet)

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked announced Sunday that people who are fleeing Ukraine who have relatives in Israel will be exempt from a 25,000-person entry cap placed on those refugees who are not eligible for Israeli citizenship.

The move came amid rising criticism of the government’s refugee policy, from both within and outside the government.

It was not immediately clear how many more refugees Israel will now admit under the adjusted policy.

Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai, one of numerous members of the governing coalition who have been protesting the entry cap, called the new policy “too little, too late.”

Amy Spiro contributed to this report. 

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