PM: Israel to take 500 Darfur refugees
By JPOST STAFF AND AP
Despite expelling nearly 50 Sudanese refugees in an overnight operation on Saturday, Israel has agreed to absorb 500 asylum-seekers from Darfur, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced on Sunday.
Egyptian security said late Saturday that Israel sent back 48 Africans, most of them Sudanese, across the border with Egypt.
"The policy of returning back anyone who enters Israel illegally will pertain to everyone, including those from Darfur," he said.
Eytan Schwartz, an advocate for Darfur refugees in Israel, said about 400 have entered Israel in recent years. Baker said they would be allowed to live in Israel, and that the ban applied to new arrivals.
Schwartz objected to any such ban. "The state of Israel has to show compassion for refugees after the Jewish people was subject to persecution throughout its history," he said.
But Ephraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said the Jewish people could not be expected to right every wrong just because of its past.
"Israel can't throw open the gates and allow unlimited access for people who are basically economic refugees," Zuroff said.
An Israeli government official said Egypt has agreed to treat the Darfur refugees well, but acknowledged it might send them back to Sudan.
Israel estimates that 2,800 people have entered the country illegally through Sinai in recent years. Nearly all are from Africa, including 1,160 from Sudan, and many spent months or years in Egypt before entering Israel.
The number of infilrators shot up in the past two months, apparently as word spread of job opportunities in Israel. As many as 50 people arrived each day in June, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Israel recently announced it had reached an understanding with Egypt to take back many of the refugees and that they would be treated well. But Egypt has denied any obligation to take them back, and it was unclear what fate expelled Africans would face once returned to Egypt.
Many Sudanese find life difficult in Egypt, a country that struggles to provide jobs and social services for a growing refugee population. Egyptian riot police violently cleared a refugee encampment in central Cairo in 2005, killing nearly 30 people.
In July, Egyptian police shot and killed a Sudanese woman who was trying to cross into Israel, the first confirmed death of its kind.
And earlier this month, Channel 10 reported that Egyptian border guards beat to death two Sudanese men in front of IDF soldiers.
Egypt neither confirmed nor denied the incident.
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