According to Time Magazine (July 5, 2010), there are 15 million refugees living in limbo in the world today. According to the UN, the number is as high as 38 million. These people are seeking asylum, looking for a secure place to live with their families. In recent years, thousands of asylum seekers from Darfur in the Sudan, Ivory Coast, Eritrea, and the Congo have entered Israel, stealing across the Egyptian border during the night. This wave of refugees began in 2007 when dozens were killed at demonstrations in Cairo. Desperate and scared, the refugees began to move out of Egypt, looking for a safe haven, crossing the desert on foot, fleeing to Israel, even as the Egyptians were shooting at their backs to prevent them from crossing the border.
The Geneva Convention of 1951 states that refugees must not be sent back from where they have come. This is no simple matter for Israel since Israel is a country born of refugees from war torn Europe and refugees from Arab lands.
The film Refugees (directed by Shai Carmeli Polak) tells tragic stories – one woman's children have died because of sickness. One man is separated form his wife and family. In Tel Aviv the refugees live in the Levinsky area, near the Old Central Bus station, where there are shelters that have been set up by non-profit groups that are offering services to the new refugees.
Israeli government policy is not decided on how to deal with these refugees. Some of them are being caught at the border and sent back (a policy called "hot return"); large numbers are being kept in lock up at Ktziot Prison (as an attempt at discouraging others to come); many are finding work in the Tel Aviv area; only those from Darfur are receiving "refugee" status.
This cogent and heart-wrenching documentary asks difficult questions. On the one hand, Israelis and the Israeli government are trying to be sensitive to the pain of these people. But what is Israel to do when thousands – Christians and Muslims – are entering the country? Does Israel have a special responsibility due to the fact that Israel is a country made up of refugees? What about the fact that Israelis are trafficking in arms in Africa, thereby providing the means for the violence from which these refugees are fleeing?
A solution to this worldwide problem has yet to be found.
Refugees (2008) is available in two versions – 52 min. or 67 min. – from Ruth Diskin Films.