Israel prepares for wave of immigrants from Ukraine while debating how many non-Jewish refugees will be allowed in
(JTA) — Hundreds of Ukrainian refugees landed in Israel Sunday, among them some 90 orphans between the ages of two and 12, in what Israeli government officials are expecting will be a wave of thousands of Ukrainian Jews immigrating to Israel in the coming months.
But whether Israel will accept Ukrainian refugees who are not Jewish, and therefore ineligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return, is unclear.
The Law of Return allows any Jew who wishes to live in Israel to obtain Israeli citizenship. But Israel has not historically opened paths to citizenship or long-term visas for refugees who are not Jewish, including the thousands of African asylum seekers currently living in Israel.
Fewer than 10% of Ukrainians who have entered Israel since the start of the war have been Jews, Israel’s Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said Sunday, according to Haaretz.
“We will reach 15,000 Ukrainians in a month. The State of Israel needs to do more in order to bring Jews and those eligible for the Law of Return. We can’t keep going at this rate, things need to be planned,” Shaked said.
Israel has already tried to deport some of the Ukrainian refugees who are ineligible to immigrate under the Law of Return who have entered the country so far, though the refugees were ultimately allowed to enter. The government has collected monetary deposits from some non-Jewish refugees to ensure they do not stay in the country longer than necessary, a tactic some have criticized as inhumane in light of the circumstances.
Government officials discussed the issue of whether to admit more non-Jewish refugees to the country at a cabinet meeting Sunday and the cabinet is expected to return to the issue during the coming week.
Three planes carrying Ukrainian Jewish refugees were set to arrive in Israel Sunday from Moldova, Romania and Poland and thousands of Ukrainian Jews are expected to make Aliyah as a result of the war between Russia and Ukraine, both countries with large Jewish populations. The Jewish Agency, which brings large numbers of immigrants to Israel, received a flood of new requests from Jews trying to flee Ukraine as the war begin late last month.