African Asylum Seeker Stays Positive in Israeli Detention Facility

Hassan Shakur Hopes To Go Home to Darfur

Down But Not Out: Hassan Shakur.
Daniel Bar-On/Haaretz
Down But Not Out: Hassan Shakur.

By Eetta Prince-Gibson

Published March 03, 2014.
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(Haaretz) — Hassan Shakur has made a deliberate decision not to be negative or bitter.

He will be optimistic, he says, despite the horrific “times of misery,” as he refers to them, in his homeland, Darfur. Despite a gruesome experience in Cairo and then the escape to Israel. And despite the racism he has encountered in this country, and the empty, numbing days at the Holot detention center deep in the southern Negev, where Israeli authorities are holding him, apparently indefinitely.

Short and thin, with a trim build and wire-rimmed glasses, Shakur, 26, entered Israel illegally four years ago. He is too young to remember the outset of the drought, famine and epidemics that have left his homeland in a state of humanitarian emergency. But he remembers well the beginning of the war between the Arab Sudanese and the rebels – mostly black Sudanese Darfuri like him – which, after years of low intensity, flared up fiercely in 2003. He remembers the killings, the displacement, the terror, the starvation.

Maybe that is why Shakur has forced himself to accept difficulties without being fatalistic and to push forward with quiet determination. Maybe that’s why the screen saver on his laptop is a bright, kitschy sunflower with the slogan, “Always expect something wonderful to happen.”

Since the middle of this month, Shakur, who had been living on Yesud Hama’aleh Street, not far from the central bus station in south Tel Aviv, has been at Holot. Before his detention, he talked at length with Haaretz and since then has been in phone contact.

Shakur’s native language is Fur, a dominant language in Darfur, but he also speaks Sudanese Arabic as well as passable English and Hebrew. His friends, he says, “think it’s worse than useless to talk to the media. But I don’t want to give up. You have to be helpful before you can get help.”

Limbo status

Shakur’s fourth-floor walk-up apartment in Tel Aviv is shabby but clean. The names and stickers on the doors in the building indicate that about half of the apartments belong to veteran Israelis and the rest to Africans. There are many baby carriages in the stairwell. He shares the large apartment with five or six other tenants, most of them Darfuris like him.

The living room is crowded with beds and sofas, and cans of K300 bug spray are everywhere. Incongruously, a shelf holds colorful, plush stuffed toys. Underneath, a sign reads, “We are refugees.”


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