Sudanese refugees seek shelter in Israel, only to be kept in limbo

On December 27, two Sudanese citizens who fled the genocide in Darfur infiltrated the Israeli border. In Darfur, their villages were attacked and their relatives disappeared. They were recognized as refugees by the UN representative in Egypt and bore documents attesting to their status. After crossing the border into Israel, they stood under a lamppost, waited for an Israel Defense Forces patrol and turned themselves in. The IDF held them for nine days, then freed them, drove them to Be’er Sheva and left them there.

“We asked people in the street how to get to the UN, but no one knew,” said Mahmoud, who, like his friend Ali, asked that his last name be withheld. “Someone suggested that we go to Tel Aviv.” They found a train station, but a policeman asked for their passports, and since they had none, he took them to the police station. They were interrogated and released, then returned to the train station. But it was 1 A.M., and the station was closed. So they slept there, waiting for the morning train.

“In Tel Aviv, too, we asked people how to get to the UN, and they didn’t know. We asked every uniformed policeman that we met, but no one knew. One policeman told us it was in Gaza and another policeman sent us to Taba,” said Mahmoud. They wandered around Tel Aviv until someone sent them to the Moked Hotline for Migrant Workers. But it was 2 P.M. on Friday, and the office was closed. So, seeing a nearby police station, they entered and asked for help.

There, a policeman eventually reached the Jerusalem office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The office staff called a Moked worker, who picked them up and lodged them in a hostel for homeless people. Yesterday, they went to the UNHCR office to get documents that will effectively prevent their arrest and enable them to work.

But, like some 300 other Sudanese refugees here, they will find no haven, because they are citizens of an enemy state. They will merely remain here until UNHCR finds them somewhere else to go.

This story demonstrates the chaos that prevails in Israel’s policy toward Sudanese refugees who flee harassment and unemployment in Egypt. The army, having been criticized for detaining refugees, is no longer willing to touch the matter. The Immigration Police does not want to deal with them, since they cannot be deported to Sudan; therefore, according to spokeswoman Orit Friedman, it has asked the IDF to return the refugees to Egypt the minute they cross the border. But the IDF says that the Egyptians refuse to take them.

Yet Mahmoud and Ali are at least not in jail – unlike 231 other Sudanese refugees, according to Sigal Rosen of Moked. Some 50 others, with Moked’s help, have been placed in kibbutzim and moshavim.