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Israel threatened illegal immigrants with unlimited detention on Tuesday as it tightened legislation to stop an increasing number of people crossing its porous Sinai Desert border from Egypt. The move, which raised the maximum detention from 60 days, drew sharp criticism from refugee groups and activists, who said the “immoral” decision would hit refugees fleeing conflict. The issue of immigration raises fierce emotions in Israel, many of whose citizens themselves arrived as refugees after World War Two’s Nazi Holocaust. [Reuters]

According to the UNHCR, South Sudan is facing a “huge humanitarian crisis” that requires support from the international community. Nearly 80,000 refugees have entered the nation from neighboring Sudan, where fighting has flared in the states of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. Last weekend, some 6,000 armed men from the Lou Nuer tribe marched on an area of South Sudan’s Jonglei state, which is home to the rival Murle tribe, attacking the town of Pibor. Although the Lou Nuer fighters have left, following negotiations with U.N. peacekeepers and the South Sudan authorities, help is urgently needed for those who fled. Beyond ethnic tensions, deficient health and education systems and a lack of infrastructure are significant obstacles for the nascent nation, UNHCR representatives explained. [CNN]

A small number of 100,000 Sri Lankan Tamils who fled to the sub-continent to escape fighting between government forces and the now defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have returned home after spending years as refugees in one of 100 camps in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The UNHCR has assisted more than 4,500 refugees to voluntarily return to their homeland. Those who return cite family unification, conditions inside the camps, or concerns over property left behind, as driving their decision. The UNHCR provides each returnee with a modest transport grant of about US$30 per person, in addition to a reintegration grant of between $65 and $88 (per child and adult). Five UNHCR offices in the north and east stock kits of basic household supplies for the returnees. In addition, the agency carries out regular monitoring to ensure returnees receive mine-risk education, are included on the food ration lists and are considered for the many government, UN and other projects in place to re-establish the lives of Sri Lankans in the north and east of the country. [IRIN]

The asylum seekers who head to Australia in rickety fishing boats are just a trickle in the global flow of refugees. Only one in five refugees reach Australian shores by boat. Most apply for asylum overseas and land in scheduled flights. But the several thousand people who short-circuit the process by arriving illegally in boats have become a hot button issue that challenges Australia’s egalitarian ethos of “a fair go” for all and provides an outlet for xenophobia and resentment over urban overcrowding. The issue has taken on exaggerated importance in Australia, partly because of a sense of vulnerability over a sparsely populated coast and partly because political parties cater to a minority of hard-line, often-xenophobic voters in poorer urban “swing seat” districts that often decide national races. Despite the hostility, Australia is the world’s most generous country in opening its doors to refugees. A population of almost 23 million plans to resettle 13,750 refugees this year, which on a per capita basis betters the United States and Canada, which both welcome large numbers of refugees. [Washington Post]



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