Israel to Grant Citizenship to Hundreds of Darfur Refugees

Interior Minister Sheetrit: Because of the history of the Jewish people, Israel cannot ignore the refugees' fate.

Israel intends to grant citizenship to several hundred refugees from Darfur who are currently in the country, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit said Tuesday.

According to the minister, Israel cannot ignore the refugees' fate because of the history of the Jewish people. "Just as [former] prime minister Menachem Begin acted to grant citizenship to refugees from Vietnam, the same ought to be done today," the minister said.

The Anti-Defamation League welcomed the government's decision on the, saying "ADL has long believed that it is the moral duty of the Jewish nation to do all it can to alleviate human suffering caused by genocide wherever it arises."

The group also called on the international community to do more to help Israel treat the refugees humanely.

At a holiday toast for Kadima activists at party headquarters in Petah Tikva, Minister Sheetrit disclosed that he has been working with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on a plan to determine, in coordination with the United Nations, a quota of refugees who would become naturalized Israeli citizens.

Sheetrit said that his ministry has begun laying the groundwork for implementing the plan, which includes a thorough investigation of every refugee from Darfur residing in Israel.

Israeli law gives the interior minister the option of granting citizenship to people who do not meet any other citizenship criteria.

Estimates put the number of asylum seekers and refugees in Israel today at more than 2,000, many of them from Sudan. The UN estimates that since 2003, when the fighting began in the Darfur region of western Sudan, more than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million people have been uprooted from their homes.

In July, Olmert announced that any refugee caught crossing into Israel from Egypt would be returned to that country through an official crossing. Olmert said this arrangment had been finalized in discussions with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, but Egypt later issued a denial.

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