Israel's Interior Minister Claims Credit for UN Initiative to Resettle Eritrean Migrants to Sweden

Gideon Sa'ar claims credit for the resettlement of 54 Eritrean women and one child in Sweden, which was actually accomplished by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
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Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

With the African migrants’ protests in full swing, Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar announced on Tuesday that dozens of Eritrean nationals had been brought to Sweden from Israel in recent weeks as part of the “voluntary departure” scheme. But later on, it became evident that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees had arranged for 54 women and one child to be flown to Sweden, and that Israel had no part in it. Most of the women, who were survivors of human trafficking and torture, had been imprisoned in Israel for extended periods of time.

The women began leaving for Sweden several weeks ago. The interior minister’s statement, which was released Tuesday, read in part: “A group of several dozen infiltrators from Eritrea left for Sweden in recent weeks as part of a process of voluntary departure. The infiltrators’ departure was coordinated with the Swedish government, and after an agreement was reached between the interior minister and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The infiltrators, who left with assistance from the Population, Immigration and Border Authority, were given grants of $3,500 each.”

Sa’ar reported on the migrants’ departure for Sweden even though Israel played only a tiny role in it. The UNHCR flew them to Sweden as part of a resettlement program. Sweden consented to the UNHCR’s request to absorb them because of their unique situation and recognized them as refugees.

Resettlement programs move refugees from one country to another − mainly from Third World countries to a Western country − to give them proper protection. The UNHCR’s web page about resettlement states that it is intended for refugees who are in danger or have special needs that cannot be met in the country where they asked for protection.

Two hours after making the first statement, the interior minister issued a clarification: “This is a process of resettlement of dozens of Eritrean women, as part of cooperation between the UNHCR and Sweden,” the statement read in part.

Human-rights groups criticized the interior minister’s statement, saying that Sweden’s absorption of refugees who had been imprisoned in Israel was a blot on Israel’s reputation. “It is not clear what the interior minister is taking pride in,” said attorney Oded Feller of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. “The fact that Sweden consented to take them in is further proof that Israel is the only country that refuses to recognize the Eritrean citizens as refugees.”

“As an Israeli, I’m ashamed of my country, which avoids providing assistance and support to the torture victims within its borders,” said Michal Pinchuk, also an attorney and the executive director of the Assaf Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel. “Sweden recognized them immediately as refugees, and they will receive all the emotional support and medical attention they need for their rehabilitation. This is a moral blot and a disgrace for Israel.”

Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

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