'Only 498 Africans are real refugees,' he says
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert confirmed yesterday for the first time that the state is considering establishing extraterritorial refugee camps to cope with the influx of African refugees to Israel. According to a highly-placed source, Ethiopia is a potential location for such camps.
Olmert arrived in a particularly combative mood to yesterday's special cabinet session on the state's failure to deal with the refugees. "Of all the thousands who have infiltrated, only 498 are refugees," he said, "and not one more. The remainder of those who are entering the State of Israel are job-seekers or traffickers in women or other kinds of criminals or people who have absolutely nothing in common with refugees. They have nothing to do with us. What is their connection to us?" Olmert said.
MK Ran Cohen, chairman of the Knesset Commitee on Foreign Workers, who arranged the special session, criticized Olmert for ordering the refugees to be put in prison - like criminals.
"What is this preaching of yours? A group numbering dozens arrives at night, what exactly should the state do? Put them up in hotels, bed-and-breakfasts? " Olmert replied, noting that he was speaking proudly and without apology.
Olmert acknowledged that many of the infiltrators were from southern Sudan, but said that they were labor migrants who had no connection to the war in the area. According to a statement by Moked, the Hotline for Migrant Workers, the main reason that only 498 people, all from Darfur, have been recognized as refugees is that the status of the remainder has not been checked.
Olmert told the session that the state is considering contributing toward the establishment of camps in countries that will agree to take them in. In the past, Haaretz reported on Kenya as one potential location. That fell through, but yesterday a source close to Olmert mentioned Ethiopia as a possible location.
"We tried to work out an arrangement with the Egyptians, based on the explicit promise of Egypt's president that none of them would be tortured or treated badly or returned to any place where they would be in any kind of danger. So to suddenly hear from the extreme left of the Knesset that when the president of Egypt gives an explicit promise that I'm not supposed to believe the president of Egypt? That sounds a little odd," said Olmert.
Olmert has promised to provide asylum to only 498 recognized refugees from Darfur, and perhaps to a few more in the future. But there is no cause for relief; Olmert said they will receive temporary, not permanent residency, and that status can be withdrawn anytime.