Fri, Sep 07, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Israel to grant citizenship to refugees


Israel will grant citizenship to some of the hundreds of Muslim refugees from Sudan's blighted Darfur region who have arrived here, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit said on Wednesday.

Sheetrit said he would work with the UN to set a quota of refugees who would be naturalized. While he estimates the number of Darfur refugees at 300, other government officials and refugee advocates have put the number at between 400 and 500.

Fighting between pro-government militias and rebels in the Western Sudanese region of Darfur has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced 2.5 million since February 2003.

The arrival in Israel of these displaced Darfurians has touched off hot debate over whether the Jewish state, founded after the Nazi genocide, has a duty to take in people fleeing persecution.

Human rights groups and high-profile figures like Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel have urged the Israeli government to give Darfurians a home.

Others say the Darfur refugees who have arrived in Israel are economic migrants because they already found sanctuary from Sudan in Egypt. They fear that accepting some refugees will lead to a flood of new arrivals. The situation also has been complicated because the refugees are from Sudan, whose Islamic government is hostile toward Israel and has been accused of harboring al-Qaeda.

Sheetrit offered a middle ground.

"Israel, with its history, must offer assistance," he said. "It can't stand by and shut its eyes. But a quota must be set."

It wasn't clear what would happen to those who do not receive citizenship. Israel is not a common destination for refugees.

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