A group of students from the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya (IDC) has
launched a Facebook campaign in a last-ditch attempt to stop the deportation of
three classmates from South Sudan.
The Facebook page, entitled “IDC
Students against the deportation of 3 students from South Sudan,” was opened
last week to support students William Akon, Gabriel Thon, and Deng Menyeal. The
three face deportation on April 1 following a decision made by the Interior
Ministry earlier this month that gives South Sudanese in Israel until March 31
to leave the country willingly or face deportation.
All three students
insist they only want to be able to stay in Israel until the spring of 2014,
when they would finish their bachelor degrees at the IDC’s Lauder School of
Ahead of a microeconomics exam Sunday afternoon, Thon and
Akon took some time at the IDC campus to speak about the importance of finishing
their degrees, and the long and winding path that brought them to the Lauder
34-year-old Thon’s life story reads like a movie, albeit one with
a horrifying plot line spanning a half a dozen countries as a
Thon said he first became a refugee at the age of 10, when
militia men from the North raided South Sudanese villages, kidnapping and
murdering young boys like him. Thon said he fled South Sudan for Ethiopia thus
becoming one of tens of thousands of “Lost Boys of Sudan,” young children
orphaned and made homeless by the Second Sudan Civil War.
Thus began a
15-year odyssey where Thon lived as a refugee in several eastern African
countries, before finally ending up back in Khartoum, from where he fled to
Egypt in 2004.
Thon said he decided to make the journey to Israel after
the events of December 30, 2005, when Egyptian riot police raided a protest camp
set up by Sudanese outside the United Nations High Commission for Refugees
office in Cairo to demand relocation in a third country. In the violence that
followed, police killed 12 protesters according to Egyptian Interior Ministry
figures, though protesters said the number was far higher. Following the
bloodshed, hundreds of Sudanese were taken to a number of detention facilities
outside Cairo by Egyptian security forces, according to testimony given by protesters after the raid.
Thon then fled to Israel, where he said he
spent 11 months in prison upon arrival.
In 2008, he said he began working
as a gardener and found a sponsor for his matriculation studies at the Hebrew
University of Jerusalem, the first step in the path that brought him to the IDC.
Like his friends, he benefited from the kindness of Israeli sponsors at several
steps along the way, and was helped by generous scholarships given by the
When asked why he chose to study government in his time outside of
work, Thon spoke of the benefits he expects to reap down the road when he
returns to South Sudan.
“South Sudan is a young nation so I can be in a
capacity to help. You see all these wars, it’s all very complicated and if we
have good people who are real politicians I think wars like this could be
Like his South Sudanese classmates, Thon said he also needs the
legal work documents so he can support himself through his work. Last week, the
Interior Ministry said it will begin prosecuting employers hiring citizens of
South Sudan beginning April 1.
Thon’s classmate, William Akon, says he’s
not sure how old he is, but he guesses 26.
Akon said he came to Israel on
his own in 2007 after seven years in Egypt as a Sudanese refugee. Like Thon, he
said he fled Egypt after the killings at the Cairo protest camp made him no
longer feel safe in the country. He added that he had slept at the protest camp
on many different nights and that to his good fortune, he happened to be
elsewhere in the city when the clashes occurred.
Akon said when he was
around eight or nine years old he was abducted by militia men from the North and
found himself working as a slave for an abusive family that held him against his
will. After three years in which he said he was repeatedly abused, he managed to
flee to a nearby town where he said he jumped a freight train to Khartoum. He
said he then began doing agricultural work in eastern Sudan to save money to
make his way to the South, only to be arrested by government troops who accused
him of spying for South Sudanese rebels camped near the eastern border. After
two weeks of torture and interrogations he said he was sent back to Khartoum,
where he began plotting his escape by way of a Nile river steamship to
Like Thon, Akon speaks of having a future in politics, a desire
that’s quite common among his resume-building fellow students at IDC. He also
says he feels that an education will set him apart in South Sudan, and pave his
way to become a leader of the infant country.
South Sudan is one of the
world’s poorest and most under-developed countries.
According to World
Bank figures, three out of four heads of household have no formal education
whatsoever, and illiteracy and child mortality rates in the country are among
the highest in the world.
Akon said he feels that he can go back to South
Sudan and apply the knowledge he has gained in Israel, saying “I will help make
South Sudan a better place. I think that through a good government a country can
be a good country.
“In South Sudan there are no hospitals, no
development, and no education. So if someone goes there with a degree absolutely
he or she will be one to build South Sudan.”
His sentiments are common
among African asylum seekers in Israel, who frequently call on the government to
give them an education or vocational training before they return to their home
Akon seems to have set his sights a bit higher than usual
“I could be an ambassador. Why not? I know Hebrew, I know
about Israel. I can be an ambassador or diplomat, or work at the Israeli embassy
in South Sudan.”
In a response to a Jerusalem Post query on Sunday, the
IDC said it has sent a letter to the head of the enforcement branch of the
Interior Ministry requesting it allow the three students to finish their studies
before returning to South Sudan.
According to the IDC, Jonathan Davis,
the head of the business school and vice president of the university wrote in
the letter that the education of the three students, who arrived at the school
“after an arduous and bloody journey,” will have an effect not only on them but
also on “an entire people [South Sudanese].”