Unwanted in Israel

Darfur refugees seek safe haven in Israel, but find they are not welcome.

    In Video

    The journey to Israel has not really improved lives for the refugees from Darfur

    More than five hundred Sudanese refugees have fled to Israel in the last two months to escape genocide in Darfur. 

    Now Israel is threatening to deport them.

    Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros speaks to the refugees about their painful past and uncertain future.

    'Route 10' is a section of the Egyptian-Israeli border that hundreds of Sudanese refugees have crossed with the hope of beginning a new life in Israel.

    One of them, Akun, left Sudan after his mother and sister were raped and murdered in front of him.

    "It was a difficult night. I crossed the border, all the mountains, and between the Israeli and Egyptian army," he said.

    "It takes 3 hours ... I'm tired but I don't have a choice I do it because I want to save my life."

    Adam, another Sudanese refugee who made the difficult journey across the Sinai desert into Israel, said: "They [Janjawid militiamen] came and attacked our village, it was a mass attack. They started burning, killing, and destroying the village and the people with no mercy.

    "I had something in my mind that if I showed them [Israeli authorities] that I'm from Darfur, I thought they could help me or show me mercy."

    But this hasn't been the case for many Sudanese refugees fleeing to Israel to escape the violence.

    No refugee status

    Sigal Rosen, from the hotline for migrant workers in Tel Aviv, said: "The government started arresting the Sudanese under the infiltration law - a law made in emergency times; a law under which there was no possibility to release them for a very long period of detention.

    Many Sudanese have been shot dead
    while crossing the border from Egypt

    To Israel, Sudan is an 'enemy state', and the Sudanese, 'enemy nationals'.

    "They aren't getting refugee status and there are deportation orders hanging over the heads of all of them.

    "The only reason they aren't being deported is that there's no technical way to deport them because Israel has no relationship with Sudan," she said.

    "The way it looks, we will have to make huge tents and this is what we're planning to do. It doesn't look as if there are more places for them ... We've run out of options."

    There are currently a thousand Sudanese refugees like Akun and Adam in Israel. Most were forced to wait for hours, sometimes days, on the Egyptian side of the fence until they felt secure enough that the Egyptian police were not going to shoot them.

    After breaking through or crawling under the fence into Israel, the Israeli army picked them up and took them them straight to prison, where, as 'enemy nationals', they have no right to appeal against their detention.

    Adam, a Sudanese refugee who spent a total of 16 months in an Israeli prison, said: "I had handcuffs, no shower, no toilets ... Then they transferred me to another prison and I stayed there for two months.

    "The situation in prison was very hard. The government said we were an 'enemy nation' and law here for enemy nationals is that they must stay here behind bars, maybe forever."

    If they are fortunate enough to be released from prison, aid workers then take them to Jewish communal farms, or kibbutzim.

    There are still around 100 Sudanese refugees in Israeli prisons - a situation that's causing a social, as well as a moral dilemma within Israel.

    Identity crisis

    Eytan Schwartz, spokesperson for the Committee for Advancement of Refugees of Darfur (Card), said that Israel has a moral obligation to take the Sudanese in.

    "We are a country founded by refugees, we are a people who were persecuted for thousands of years. We of all people should know what it's like to be people of a nation that nobody wants to take in.

    "That's why we have a moral, historical obligation to take them in, even if they're from an enemy country."

    But the Israeli government has said the situation is now at a crisis point and closing the border or deporting them back to Egypt may be the only solution.

    Avishai Braverman, a Knesset member, said: "People heard that Israel may be a haven ... [But] we are such a small country, we cannot do that. We have our own problems with our own immigrants.

    "You can do certain things, but it's not in our capacity to solve the problem of all the Sudanese ... to say that we can absorb hundreds of thousands when we cannot even take care of our own, that's a nice world but its unrealistic and unfair."

    To many, those Sudanese seeking refuge in Israel are viewed as a threat to the Jewish identity.

    "Israel has an identity challenge," Schwartz said. "We are a Jewish democracy and this is an example, a perfect example, of the negotiation of these two identities.

    "How can you be a democracy with human rights, with values of accepting people from all nations, but you still want to maintain your Jewish identity? ... That means always maintaining a Jewish majority."

    With every new arrival, Israel's dilemma deepens.  At the same time, for the Sudanese who make the journey with so much hope, life in Israel now holds an uncertain future.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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