Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began Thursday morning, 303 Ukrainian citizens have entered Israel and 50 have been denied entry, according to Population and Immigration Authority numbers released Tuesday.
On Tuesday, only two people were denied entry, and 97 were let into the country. The lower number of refusals stems from Israel’s amendment to the policy of entry of Ukrainians Monday night.
Under the new policy, Ukrainians can come to Israel if they have Israeli relatives who can guarantee they won’t settle here permanently and post a guarantee in the form of a check for 10,000 shekels ($3,000) per person.
Ukraine’s Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk expressed his disappointment with the Interior Ministry’s decision. “We are not talking about illegal workers but about people who have family members here who can help them,” he said.
The Ukrainian consul in Israel, Roman Kotovich, addressed the Knesset Special Committee on Foreign Workers Tuesday, saying “there is no time for bureaucracy and no time for bail payments while people are dying. Paying 10,000 shekels to enter Israel is a bit strange, don’t you think? People need this money ... We do not ask you to let them stay as long as they want, we ask for practical steps [to] help the people.”
A senior Interior Ministry official told Haaretz that Ukrainian citizens are not permitted into the country if they don’t meet the criteria, but added that those who have no valid grounds for entering the country would not be returned to Ukraine at the current time. The ministry is conducting daily situation assessments on policy regarding admitting Ukrainian nationals, the official added.
In an interview on Channel 13, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said “We have a goal to take care of Israel’s interests and assist people who are in danger to the extent possible. All Ukrainians are coming from other countries in Europe because there are no flights from Ukraine. There is a big community here of many families, and there is a citizen here who wants to host a [Ukrainian] citizen, they can do it.”
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On Sunday, Kotovich sent a letter to the Interior Ministry asking that Israel permit any Ukrainian arriving at Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport to be allowed into the country in light of the life-threatening situation in Ukraine.
“We’ve requested for humanitarian act from friendly Israeli people,” the embassy said in a statement. “As the war in Ukraine rages on, and Ukrainians fight bravely for their country, we urge [the] Israeli government to step up its support for Ukraine and keep their borders open to refugees seeking shelter.”
On Sunday the Interior Ministry announced it would not take action against Ukrainians already in Israel illegally “pending clarification of the situation in their home country.” The authority explained that the temporary policy of non-enforcement would apply to those who have not applied for political asylum as well as those who have. Shaked has also said the visas of Ukrainian tourists would be extended by two months.
More Ukrainians have been denied entry into Israel in recent years than nationals of any other country, mainly to prevent undocumented immigration. Between 2018-21, a total of 15,430 Ukrainians were denied entry. In the past two years the numbers dropped sharply due to the coronavirus pandemic.
There are about 7,200 Ukrainians currently in Israel on expired tourist visas. They represent about 24 percent of all foreign nationals in the country illegally.
“At a time of an unprecedented global crisis in which the world is mobilizing to assist the Ukrainian citizens fleeing their country, the State of Israel should provide protection not only to those in [Israel] but also those arriving at its borders and seeking protection,” Inbar Barel, the legal director of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants and Nimrod Avigal, the deputy director of the HIAS immigrant assistance organization in Israel, said in a statement.