Deported Africans Face Struggle at Home

South Sudanese Immigrants Vow To Help New Homeland

Arriving Home: South Sudanese deportees arrive at a holding camp in the capital of Juba after being forced to leave Israel.
tendai-ishe mbofana
Arriving Home: South Sudanese deportees arrive at a holding camp in the capital of Juba after being forced to leave Israel.

By Tendai-ishe Mbofana

Published June 30, 2012, issue of July 06, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share

For Benjamin Churi Kariyam, it’s no secret why he’s languishing in a crumbling transit camp outside the South Sudanese capital of Juba instead of working in Tel Aviv.

Like scores of other African immigrants just deported, Kariyam blames what he calls the racism of Israeli government for his plight.

“This is the reason why we are here today,” he said after rickety buses piled high with suitcases ferried the returnees from Juba’s sun-baked international airport.

“Black people in other countries are not seen as people at all,” added Dombek Ding, another deportee.

In Israel, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, rejected this portrayal. At the airport on the day of their deportation, he said that Israel was simply faced with a choice “between the interests of Israel and the interests of the Sudanese,” and in that case, the minister added, “I will choose Israel.”

About 120 South Sudanese were flown to South Sudan from Israel June 17 after being deported from Israel and more arrived on June 25. Several more groups are expected in coming weeks as Israel continues a crackdown on illegal African immigrants.

It’s been years since most of the South Sudanese have lived in their homeland, which was a breakaway province of Sudan until last year, when it became the world’s newest nation.

Despite having picked up some skills and education in Israel, the returnees will likely struggle to adjust to life in South Sudan, which is one of the world’s poorest nations. Running water and power are luxuries here, and most people live in thatched huts, even on the outskirts of the capital. Much of the new nation’s hinterland is still torn by faction fighting and tribal battles.

Bol Duop said it’s a far cry from his life in Israel, where he held down steady jobs for five years.

He had few complaints, but things changed in recent months when anti-immigrant fervor started sweeping the nation. Police and government officials started hunting down South Sudanese immigrants, especially in South Tel Aviv, where many African immigrants settled.

“I was stopped from my job. South Sudanese children were stopped from school,” Duop said.

Ironically, the small community of South Sudanese is specifically being targeted because their new country is considered relatively free and has good relations with Israel. Immigrants from Eritrea and Sudan proper, on the other hand, who make up an estimated 90% of illegal African immigrants in Israel, cannot be deported, because of the countries’ authoritarian rulers.

“The Israelis said to us we had to come back to South Sudan because we had a country to come back to,” Duop added wryly. “Those who had no place to go back to would stay.”

Others praised Israel as a good country to live and work in, and lauded the government for providing extensive social services to its people. Norbert Mayom called the lack of corruption a blessing, especially for an immigrant struggling to make ends meet.

“That’s the best [thing] about Israel,” he said.

He bitterly attacked the Israeli crackdown on African immigrants as misguided, but added that it wasn’t his business to tell Israel how to run its affairs.

“I can’t say much,” he said. “It’s their country, and it’s their right to do whatever they like.”

The returnees said they were picked up in raids and told they had to sign papers agreeing to be “voluntarily repatriated.” Most of them were given about $1,250 cash when they left, and some also brought possessions with them that they amassed during years of working in Israel.

The South Sudan government says it hopes to help returnees get back to their homes in the rural areas, but most of them hope to work or study in Juba.

Few of the returnees have even the slightest idea of their future plans. Most said they wouldn’t try to return to Israel right away, especially since the crackdown is making life tough for South Sudanese.

Despite the difficulties that lie ahead, South Sudanese beamed with pride at the knowledge that they were returning to an independent homeland that won its freedom from Sudan after a decades-long struggle.

“I have come to share with our people in the development,” Kariyam said. “Even if I have a dollar, I will contribute it to the development of this country.”

After a quick glimpse at the construction sites that dot the new capital city, Mayom couldn’t hide his joy at being back home.

”There is a lack of development in Juba, but the land is green,” he said. “I don’t blame the government. This country is a new nation.”

Contact Tendai-ishe Mbofana at

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • "Despite the great pain and sadness surrounding a captured soldier, this should not shape the face of this particular conflict – not in making concessions and not in negotiations, not in sobering assessments of this operation’s achievements or the need to either retreat or move forward." Do you agree?
  • Why genocide is always wrong, period. And the fact that some are talking about it shows just how much damage the war in Gaza has already done.
  • Construction workers found a 75-year-old deli sign behind a closing Harlem bodega earlier this month. Should it be preserved?
  • "The painful irony in Israel’s current dilemma is that it has been here before." Read J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis of the conflict:
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels.
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.