Immigration officers escort African migrant 370 (R).
(photo credit: Baz Ratner/Reuters)
The South Sudanese delegation to Israel wants its countrymen to return home, but
is shocked and disturbed by how Israel is carrying out the deportation of the
community of 700-1,500 people, an Israeli activist who took part in a meeting
with the delegation said Thursday.
Rabbis for Human Rights co-founder Arik
Ascherman, who attended a meeting in Jerusalem on Wednesday between the
delegation and members of the South Sudanese community in Israel, said the
officials from Juba “are on one hand kind of taking this page from the Zionist
movement. They very much want everyone back there to help rebuild the country,
but they were pretty shocked and disturbed to hear about how [South Sudanese]
people were treated – the arrests, the people being given so little time to get
their lives in order.”
Ascherman said he heard from officials during the
meeting that “we are a country that has such good relations with Israel and
these types of things are not helpful in terms of the Israel-South Sudan
The activist said the South Sudanese delegation, which
arrived in Israel on Wednesday, includes two officials from the foreign
ministry, one from South Sudan’s ministry of humanitarian affairs, a deputy
police commander, and a diplomat who had previously served as the South Sudanese
ambassador to Turkey.
The meeting in which Ascherman took part was
shortly before one that the delegation held with representatives from the
On Thursday, they met with representatives of the
Interior Ministry, including Interior Minister Eli Yishai, and on Friday, the
delegation is scheduled to take part in a town-hall meeting with members of the
community in Tel Aviv. Finally, they plan to head south on Saturday to meet with
South Sudanese living in Eilat.
Sunday Dieng, a South Sudanese citizen
living in Tel Aviv, attended the meeting on Wednesday and spoke of a somewhat
different tone. “The officials told us that if the Israeli government doesn’t
want you, you should go back,” he said.
Dieng said the officials did not
focus much on how the deportations were carried out, saying “they didn’t seem to
put much concentration on how people were treated by Israel; they are here to
make it clear that the [South Sudanese] government supports returning the people
The Interior Ministry did not return multiple requests for comment
on the meeting.
The delegation’s visit comes following the launching on
Sunday of “Operation Going Back Home,” during which immigration authorities have
arrested around 300 migrants while another 300 have signed papers agreeing to
Nearly all are from South Sudan, according to
immigration officials, who have confirmed that at least one charter flight will
leave Israel on Sunday to take South Sudanese back to their country.
foreign ministry official told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that the
delegation is in Israel purely on a bureaucratic level and working in
cooperation with Israel to oversee the repatriation of South Sudanese
When asked if the delegation spoke about how the deportations
would affect the country’s relations with Israel, the official said that he
hadn’t heard anything negative in that regard, but added that Israel has
suffered from negative publicity in the world as a result of the images of the
arrests, and the violence and inflammatory language surrounding the migrant
Galia Sabar, the chair of African Studies section in the
Department of Middle Eastern and African History at Tel Aviv University, said
Thursday that the deportations could potentially tarnish Israel’s relations with
Sabar mentioned how, over the years, Israel has invested
vast sums of money and expertise in helping to develop South Sudan, and that
deportations “will make us no longer the good guys.”
“We have a
phenomenal vested interest in South Sudan, a Christian country in the heart of
an area of great importance to us,” he said, adding that the deportations and
how they’ve been carried out “harm our interests in this part of the
“A person doesn’t go from being an asylum-seeker to a migrant
worker over the course of a week,” Sabar added.