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.
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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.
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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?”


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