Israel Resumes Jailing African Refugees

Israel is considering sending African refugees to Kenya and is engaged in diplomatic talks on the issue. It has also resumed jailing Sudanese refugees who seep into the country along the Egyptian border.

However, several people dealing with the refugees doubt that Kenya is interested in accepting them. They said yesterday that the plan was probably Israel's alone. The UN is also expected to object.

The UN returns the refugees to south Sudan via Kenya. Israel is refraining from returning to Egypt the refugees who made it across the border because Egypt sends them to Sudan, where they are expected to be executed for seeking asylum in Israel.

Michael Bavli, the representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Jerusalem, said he was not aware of negotiations between Israel and Kenya. "I assume the UN will not agree to taking refugees against their will back to Africa," he said.

The chairman of the Knesset Interior Committee, Ophir Pines-Paz, said he objects to returning the refugees to Africa. Pines said Israel must take in a significant number of refugees and reach an agreement with other countries to take the rest.

Attorney Anat Ben Dor of Tel Aviv University's clinic for refugees' rights said transferring the refugees to a country where they could be imprisoned in a refugee camp would be illegal. The IDF yesterday jailed 12 Sudanese men. Their women and children were left to manage on their own.

The jailing policy, which was carried out until April this year, caused humanitarian problems because the women and children found it difficult to fend for themselves in a foreign country while the heads of their families were in prison.

Due to prison overcrowding and the objection of civil rights groups, the Israel Defense Forces put an end to the jailing policy until its current resumption.

In recent weeks the IDF would arrest the refugees but leave them outside police stations because the army is not allowed to hold refugees for more than 24 hours. Non-profit organizations would take the refugees off the street, treat them, and help them to find jobs.

Meanwhile, the ministers' committee to solve the refugee problem has completed its findings. These include blocking the southern border by increased military activity and building a fence along the border.

Interior Minister Roni Bar-On yesterday presented Prime Minister Ehud Olmert with the committee's recommendations, and a debate with all those involved with the refugee issue is due to be held next week.