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Holy Land: AOCTS, “we cannot remain indifferent to the plight of so many refugees fleeing from dictatorship, war, and other horrific conditions”

“We cannot remain indifferent to the plight of so many refugees fleeing from dictatorship, war, and other horrific conditions. The welfare of the Israeli society cannot be achieved at the expense of so many people repelled together and so many lives exposed to danger and a very uncertain future”. The Heads of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land (AOCTS) wrote this in a statement concerning the recently announced “departure or incarceration” policy towards asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan published by the Israeli Population and Immigration Authority. The AOCTS statement reports information published in the policy according to which “those who leave by the end of March 2018 will be given a $3,500 ‘grant’ in addition to airfare. Those who remain after that date will be subject to ‘enforcement actions’ at the end of a specified time period. An additional document specifies that asylum seekers and refugees from Sudan and Eritrea (excluding women, children, parents of dependent children, and victims of slavery/forced labor/sex trade) who come to renew their temporary residence permits, starting Feb 2nd 2018, will be informed that they have 60 days to leave Israel, either to their home country or to one of two African ‘third countries’. While the document states that they can appeal this decision, it also states that the appeal process will not be allowed to delay the asylum seeker’s departure beyond the original 60 days, unless their appeal is accepted. Those who remain in Israel beyond the 60 days will be incarcerated. The program published on Jan 1st 2018 specifies that the initial target population is those Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers who have not submitted an asylum request prior to Jan 1st 2018. It then adds that the Population and Immigration Authority will consider enlarging the population planned for deportation to third countries, including those whose request for asylum is still in process”. “While recognizing the need to control the flow of asylum seekers in our country, as everywhere else”, the statement ends, “we hope the Administration will take into consideration the distress of the asylum seekers present in Israel and find more humane solutions to offer”. The statement is signed by Mgr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem; Mgr. Georges Bacouni, Greek Melkite Archbishop of Akka; Mgr. Moussa el-Hage, Maronite Archbishop of Haifa and the Holy Land; Mgr. Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, Patriarchal Vicar for Jerusalem and Palestine; Father Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land; Father Hanna Kaldani, Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Israel; and by Father Rafic Nahra, Patriarchal Vicar for Hebrew-speaking Catholics in Israel of the Vicariate of St. James.

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