Seeking Asylum, Sudanese Face Israeli Prison

Israel Building Detention Center for 15,000 Refugees

History of Pain: Sudanese refugees from Darfur, where the government has been accused of genocide, visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.
Getty Images
History of Pain: Sudanese refugees from Darfur, where the government has been accused of genocide, visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.

By Ben Lynfield

Published October 19, 2012, issue of October 26, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Israel’s Interior Ministry is preparing prisons in the Negev desert for the mass detention of some 15,000 Sudanese nationals who are seeking asylum as refugees in the Jewish state.

The planned sweep, which the ministry now hopes to launch sometime after October 30, follows hard on the heels of Israel’s deportation in June of hundreds of undocumented migrants from South Sudan, the predominantly Christian country that gained its independence from Sudan in July 2011.

But the challenge of the asylum seekers from Sudan is something entirely different. Not only are the numbers involved vastly larger; Sudan, a predominantly Arab and Muslim country, remains in a state of war with Israel, and the two countries have no diplomatic relations. This makes deporting them back home impossible.

The Sudanese would also face prosecution in Sudan if they were returned there, since the government prohibits its citizens from traveling to Israel.

The Interior Ministry hopes that eventually a third country will be found to take them. Meanwhile, its plans for incarceration are proceeding apace.

Seated in a crowded apartment behind Tel Aviv’s central bus station, Jumaa Ahmad Hamad, one of those the government will target, asked: “Why should I go to prison? I am a refugee, not a criminal.”

Hamad, who does not know his exact age because he never got a birth certificate, looks about 30. He is a survivor of the Sudanese government’s campaign against rebellious tribes in Darfur, a campaign whose many reported atrocities led prominent American Jewish leaders, among many others, to denounce Sudan for genocide between 2003 and 2007.

Hamad recalled witnessing his father and uncle being killed during a 2003 attack by militiamen aligned with the Sudanese regime in his farming village of Magarsa. Its 180 thatch houses were torched, and survivors fled to refugee camps in Chad, he said, adding that Magarsa and the surrounding area are still controlled by the pro-government militia, known as the Janjaweed.

Khaled Adam, 32, another Darfur survivor, said he is worried about how his 3-month old-son, Mozan, will fare behind bars. “And there are sick people too,” he said. “How can you put them in prison?”


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!
  • Israelis are taking up the #IceBucketChallenge — with hummus.
  • In WWI, Jews fought for Britain. So why were they treated as outsiders?
  • According to a new poll, 75% of Israeli Jews oppose intermarriage.
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • 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.