Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Israel and Protecting Refugees

July 1, 2012 12:01 am 2 comments

Israeli students and Sudanese refugees dialogue about the coming days. Photo: Ron Cantrell.

Israel, like many other developed countries has a migrant problem. As in most European countries, poor people from near and far come to find work, opportunity and a better life. Israelis and Jews around the world identify with that aspiration and even sometimes, desperation. Most of us are only a generation removed from wandering, escaping and seeking refuge. That is why, over the years, Israel has consistently played a positive role in protecting groups and individuals during times of war, hunger and strife.

As a charter party to the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, Israel has taken this responsibility seriously. It famously offered safety to Vietnamese boat people in 1977, to refugees from the war in Kosovo in 1999 and in recent years to hundreds of people from Ivory Coast, Liberia and Congo. These were groups who were protected in Israel during times of danger in their home countries. Often, when the conflict or danger passed, people were able to quietly return home. This Israeli humanitarian hospitality was offered in addition to the absorption, over the years, of Jewish refugees from dozens of countries from Iraq to Yemen to the former Soviet Union as full citizens.

In recent years, thousands of Sudanis and Eritrians have travelled, often by foot and often by paying large sums to human traffickers, through Egypt and across the Sinai desert into Israel. Thus far, at the request of the United Nations, Israel has allowed all to remain with none put at risk. This includes Muslims from Sudan, a country run by despots that call for Israel’s destruction, others from Darfur and Christians from newly independent South Sudan. Still others have left Eritrea, one of the most dark regimes in the world today.

In South Sudan, the situation has changed. While still not a developed country, it is now independent and for the most part safe. Like many other countries, Israel has determined, in consultation with both the office of UN High Commissioner for Refugees and with the local government, that the danger has passed and people, without specific individual refugee claims, can return home. That position was recently approved by an Israeli Court and will begin to be carried out in the coming weeks.

Today, Israel, a small state of just over seven million in one of the most sensitive regions in the world, continues to uphold its obligations both in accordance with international law and Israeli legislation. Not one individual has been deported so that he or she could be seen to have a well founded of persecution. Instead, Israel, in close cooperation with the UN, has been developing a process for reviewing individual cases and offers protection when needed.

All of this is not to say that Israel is perfect or has handled every situation perfectly. The dilemmas of protecting the rights of refugees in Israel while not encouraging thousands of others to join them are real. How to ensure the difficult balance, as is often faced in Europe, between the local community and the needs of the migrants, as done reasonably is an enormous challenge. For Israel, this remains a work in progress and it remains committed to acting responsibly and in accordance with international standards.

Over the years and on a wide range of topics from sending doctors to Haiti, rescue crews to Turkey and aiding agricultural development and fighting AIDS in Africa, Israel has seen itself as a serious and willing participant in the international community. The Jewish ideal of “tikun olam” is a real aspect of Israel’s foreign policy and its role as a constructive global partner. Facing the challenges of both protecting refugees and repatriating migrants when possible fits firmly within this view. We can be proud of our humanitarian achievements while ensuring that Israel continues to protect its citizens and those that seek safety in our country.

Arthur Lenk is Director of the Department of International Law at Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs

2 Comments

  • Bring the refugees to the U.S. and they will be cared for thus Israel’s problem will be solved.

  • When reading about this problem of refugees in the LA Times and when talking about it,the problem seems like Israel is doing something positive, but that the amount of people coming in the country is just too many to absorb. It would be interesting now to follow and see how many really leave with the declaration that Sudan is safe.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Music US & Canada Musician Carlos Santana Maintains Upcoming Israel Concert With ‘Open Heart’ Despite Pressure From BDS Activists (VIDEO)

    Musician Carlos Santana Maintains Upcoming Israel Concert With ‘Open Heart’ Despite Pressure From BDS Activists (VIDEO)

    After supporters of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement failed to pressure rock superstar Carlos Santana into cancelling his upcoming concert in Tel Aivv, the guitarist said in a video message on Thursday that he is excited to return to Israel and promote a “musical message of peace, love and an end to conflict.” “The band and I will bring our open hearts and musical energy that will resonate with your soul long after the last song has been […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Music Coldplay Begins Concert With Broadcast of Charlie Chaplin’s Iconic Speech in ‘The Great Dictator’

    Coldplay Begins Concert With Broadcast of Charlie Chaplin’s Iconic Speech in ‘The Great Dictator’

    British rock band Coldplay started its set at the Glastonburg Festival on Sunday by broadcasting excerpts of the iconic speech Charlie Chaplin delivered in The Great Dictator, the 1940 political satire in which the famous filmmaker/movie star played a Jewish barber. “I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone,” Chaplin begins his address. “I should like to help everyone, if possible, Jew, Gentile, black man, white. We all want to help one […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Two Decades Before Cleveland’s First NBA Title, LeBron James Walked Onto a JCC Court

    Two Decades Before Cleveland’s First NBA Title, LeBron James Walked Onto a JCC Court

    JNS.org – The seed for the city of Cleveland’s first professional championship in a major sport in 52 years may have been planted at the Shaw Jewish Community Center on White Pond Drive in Akron, Ohio, nearly 20 years ago. That’s when a tall, lanky kid from Akron named LeBron James walked onto the hardwood court and changed the game of basketball forever. Coach Keith Dambrot, now the head basketball coach at the University of Akron, conducted those sessions that attracted […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs North American Studios Look to Israel for Next Animation Hit

    North American Studios Look to Israel for Next Animation Hit

    JNS.org – In 2008, Yoram Honig was a producer and director living in Jerusalem, fresh off his first international hit, when the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA) came to him with a challenge: build a film industry from scratch in Israel’s capital. “When we started here, was nothing in Jerusalem,” he said during an interview in his office in the Talbiya neighborhood. Now, the Jerusalem Film and Television Fund, which Honig heads as an arm of the JDA, pumps 9 million shekels […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas to Wear Leotard With Hebrew Letters in National Competition

    Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas to Wear Leotard With Hebrew Letters in National Competition

    Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas will wear a leotard bearing Hebrew lettering when she competes at the P&G Gymnastics Championships over the weekend. Douglas’ Swarovski-outlined outfit will feature the Hebrew word “Elohim,” meaning God, on its left sleeve. The Hebrew detailing honors the athlete’s “rich heritage of faith,” according to apparel manufacturer GK Elite, which produced the leotard and released a preview of it on Wednesday. The company said Douglas’ sister, Joyelle “Joy” Douglas, created the Hebrew design. The outcome of the P&G Championships will help […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports British World Heavyweight Champion Should Be Banned From Boxing for Sounding Like Hitler, Says Ukrainian Competitor

    British World Heavyweight Champion Should Be Banned From Boxing for Sounding Like Hitler, Says Ukrainian Competitor

    Britain’s world heavyweight champion, Taylor Fury, should be banned from boxing for making Nazi-like comments, a former world champion from the Ukraine said on Thursday, ahead of their upcoming match. “I was in shock at his statements about women, the gay community, and when he got to the Jewish people, he sounded like Hitler,” Wladimir Klitschko told British media, according to Reuters. “We cannot have a champion like that. Either he needs to be shut up or shut down in the ring, or […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Rabbi Shows Cooking Skills and Humor on Chopped

    Rabbi Shows Cooking Skills and Humor on Chopped

    Rabbi Hanoch Hecht just made television history; but, unfortunately, he couldn’t have his rugelach and eat it too. Hecht became the first rabbi to compete on the hit show “Chopped,” where contestants are forced to use four random ingredients in their recipes, and have 20-30 minutes to create an appetizer, a main course and a dessert. A contestant is eliminated after each round. Hecht, 32, said that while the dishes and utensils were new, the kitchen was not kosher, so he couldn’t taste […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Music Orthodox Entertainer Stars in Pepsi Max Commercial as New Face of Company’s Israel Campaign (VIDEO)

    Orthodox Entertainer Stars in Pepsi Max Commercial as New Face of Company’s Israel Campaign (VIDEO)

    Orthodox singer and entertainer Lipa Schmeltzer is starring in a new Pepsi Max commercial for the company’s campaign in Israel. The commercial begins with a bunch of Jewish men eating at a restaurant, when Schmeltzer walks in and tries to decide what to order. An employee at the obviously Israeli eatery offers him a variety of foods, but the entertainer in the end decides on a bottle of Pepsi. Everyone in the restaurant then joins him, drinking Pepsi Max and dancing to […]

    Read more →