title: Young Sudanese begin school in shadow of deportation
Intro: Fear of being sent back to Egypt outweighs other concerns on first day of classes
By Sheera Claire Frenkel
The last thing 15-year-old Ismail remembers learning in school is basic arithmetic. The Sudanese refugee, who last received regular schooling five years ago in his hometown in Darfur, had since relied on sporadic lessons from aid workers.
So on Sunday, when he was told he would be attending school alongside Israeli teens in Eilat, the first thing he wanted to know was if he could come back tomorrow.
"I am very pleased for this opportunity, but concerned that my levels will not be good enough," said Ismail, who asked not to use his real name to protect his extended family in Sudan. "I very much want for this to continue, to remain in school in Israel."
Ismail's chances of remaining in Israel, however, are very slim.
Although Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has allowed 500 Sudanese refugees to pursue asylum status, Ismail arrived after the July 1 cutoff date. He will most likely be deported back to Egypt before the end of the school term, along with 2,400 other African refugees.
"In Egypt there was nothing, no hope, no education," he said. "We are learning Hebrew. Good words in Hebrew. Why would they send me back?"
It is unclear who among the 76 Sudanese children enrolled in school on Sunday will become permanent fixtures in the Israeli school system.
"It is very confusing for the refugees. On the one hand, they are being told that many of them will not be allowed to stay. On the other hand, the children are being sent to school to learn Hebrew," said Eytan Schwartz, spokesman for the Committee for the Advancement of Refugees.
In the past two years, more than 2,800 African asylumseekers have arrived via the Egyptian border. Half are from Sudan, including 700 from Darfur, the province that has been the hardest hit by years of war.
Human rights organization and individual volunteers had cared for the refugees and provided private schooling for some of the children. There was no formal education plan, however, until last month, when Education Minister Yuli Tamir (Labor) announced that 76 Sudanese refugees, ages four and up, would be enrolled in Israeli schools.
"It is our duty to provide an education for these students," Tamir said.
Elsewhere in Israel, including at Ketziot Prison in the Ramat Hanegev Regional Council, volunteers and staff have been providing a more informal education.
Armed with donated textbooks and half-filled notebooks, the dozen teens at Ketziot are being taught basic math and grammar.
"We know that none of them are currently approved to stay here, but we felt it was important to do something to educate them while we have the chance," said Liat, a police woman who asked to give only her first name. "In Egypt, the only thing they learned was fear."
Ismail described the time he tried to go to a school near the refugee camp where his family lived in southern Egypt.
He recalled teasing and bullying, and then a long walk home during which a local gang stole his shoes, food and money.
"I did not try to go back to school again," he said. "Here I will go to school all the time... for as long as this is possible."