Israel has decided to provide refuge to 100 Syrian children who have been orphaned, the first refugees who will receive asylum in Israel during the six-year civil war.
The refugees will be granted temporary residency for four years before gaining permanent residency at which point family members may be able to join them. The plan was recently approved by Interior Minister Arye Deri.
During the conflict, Israel has cared for an estimated 2,600 Syrians who were wounded in the war and managed to arrive at the Israeli border seeking medical attention.
The children will be relocated with the help of neutral international organizations working in the area and, after a three-month residential adjustment phase, will be integrated into the education system and placed with Israeli-Arab foster families. Their arrival date is as yet unspecified.
Israel is officially neutral in the Syrian conflict, although the two countries have been technically at war since Israel’s establishment in 1948. Occasional rockets have been fired into Israel from Syria, to which Israel has responded. Israel has also bombed sites and weapons transfers in Syria that it viewed as a potential threat.
The 100 refugees are a small number compared to the approximately 4.8 million who have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, the 6.6 million internally displaced Syrians and the 1 million seeking asylum in Europe, according to the United Nations. Lebanon, with a population 6 million, is bending under the weight of 1.5 million Syrian refugees.
The cost of caring for children in Israel is disproportionately high compared to adults, due to the additional costs of social care, medical care, housing and education. But even that is incomparable to the costs Israel’s neighbors are bearing, even with subsidization by the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.
Israel has a history of taking in refugees. The Jewish state welcomed Vietnamese refugees during the Vietnam War between 1955 to 1975; 7,000 refugees from Lebanon following Israel’s withdrawal from its peace-keeping role in southern Lebanon in May 2000; and also refugees from conflicts in the Horn of Africa.
Welcoming and acting justly towards strangers is close to God’s heart and is a theme that runs throughout the Old Testament, which commands 36 times to “love the alien and the stranger” and highlights care for other vulnerable groups such as widows and orphans. In the New Testament, Jesus associates welcoming a stranger with welcoming him: “I was a stranger and you invited me in.” (Matthew 25:35)
Hence it is fitting that the Jewish state is welcoming these strangers and orphans from Syria, despite the complexity of its relationship with Syria.
Israel is assuming children may not pose a security threat as an adult Muslim could, an issue currently dominating the political agenda in Europe and the United States, and is also banking on the fact that 100 children have little chance of forming another minority group in the land.
Meanwhile, Israel companies are also helping Syrian refugees at the camps in Jordan by providing clean, free cooking gas. HomeBiogas, for example, set up two of its systems in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan which currently holds 80,000 refugees. The HomeBiogas system provides cooking fuel by breaking down kitchen or animal waste in a “digester tank,” thus creating bacteria which produces biogas, such as methane, funneled to a stove for cooking.