Somali refugee - Moti Milrod - October 2011
A Somali refugee in a park in Tel Aviv. Photo by Moti Milrod
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The plight of 28-year-old Somali Abbas Said Omar that was reported yesterday in Haaretz by Dana Weiler-Polak casts an embarrassing light on the Interior Ministry's policy vis-a-vis the granting of refugee status.

Omar - whose father was killed and whose other family members were dispersed in the wake of murderous acts committed by armed tribal militias in the area around the Somali capital, Mogadishu - was forced to flee his homeland in 2005, and, after a period of wandering, he arrived in Israel in March 2009.

In February 2010, he was recognized as a refugee by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, but his application for recognition as a refugee by the State of Israel was turned down by the Interior Ministry. Currently, Omar and three other Somali nationals are petitioning the Jerusalem District Court to overturn the verdict of Interior Minister Eli Yishai and the ministry's advisory committee on refugees.

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees ruled in May of last year that Mogadishu and the south and west of Somalia are deemed a disaster area, that one's presence in the area is life-threatening, and that repatriating individuals to the area is a violation of international law. As a result, the U.S. administration has extended to 2012 existing protections provided to Somali civilians in 1991.

In Israel, however, this ruling has not made much of an impression on the Interior Ministry. In January, the ministry's advisory committee on refugees stated: "Despite what was stated in the opinion submitted by the UN refugee agency, the committee members are in complete agreement that temporary collective protection not be granted to citizens of Somalia, and that decisions related to Somali asylum seekers should be based on individual consideration of each and every applicant."

Although there is no question as to the right of the State of Israel to decide who enters the country, in this case, the decision, which was based on three controversial sources, reflects a hard-heartedness and lack of compassion that currently characterizes the Interior Ministry and Yishai at its helm. In fact, even according to the stricter criteria that have been set, Omar should be entitled to refugee status.

All told, there are some 20 Somali citizens living in Israel. At a time in which an entire nation is filled with pride over the rescue of one individual, Gilad Shalit, it should also demonstrate empathy for those from beyond our midst.