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Israel to Grant Citizenship to Some Sudanese Refugees


Israel is opening its doors to some refugees from war-torn Sudan. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, the issue poses a moral dilemma to the Jewish state.

Israel plans to grant citizenship to some of the hundreds of Sudanese refugees who fled here from the civil war in Darfur. The decision caps months of heated debate over what to do about the growing number of Africans who want to make their homes in Israel. Nearly 3,000 have entered the country illegally through Egypt's Sinai desert in recent years, including up to 500 from Darfur.

The number has shot up in recent months, apparently because of job opportunities in Israel and mistreatment in Egypt.

Eartlier, in December 2005, Egyptian riot police killed at least 25 Sudanese refugees while breaking up a protest at their tent camp in central Cairo.

Israeli refugee activist Eitan Schwartz says Israel has a duty to these people because of the Holocaust, when Jews fleeing Nazi persecution were in a similar situation.

"We as Jews have a moral obligation to help refugees seeking safe haven and we have a historical obligation to help refugees," Schwartz said.

But Ephraim Zuroff, an Israeli expert on the Holocaust, says that, while some of the refugees deserve asylum, most do not.

"We are talking about people who already escaped from genocide and have been living in Egypt, some for months and some for years," said Zuroff. "These people are economic refugees. But we can't simply open up the gates of Israel and allow unlimited flow of refugees into the country, just of people who want to better their lives."

Israel's interior minister is taking the middle road. He said the country has a moral obligation to accept newcomers, but it will set a quota to prevent a flood of Christian and Muslim refugees into the Jewish state.

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