Sudanese asylum-seeker Suleiman Abdul Karim went to bed happy on Monday night. He didn’t stay up late enough to hear the news that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had caved in to pressure from his coalition partners and had frozen a deal signed hours earlier with the UN Refugee Agency to deport some 16,000 African migrants to Western countries and let 23,000 more remain in Israel.
The next morning Netanyahu went a step further and fully canceled the deal.
“It was like a dream,” Karim told The Jerusalem Post
on Tuesday morning at a protest against the cancellation of the agreement being held outside the Tel Aviv District government center. “I went to bed and dreamed about it and woke up in the morning and there was nothing. I saw something else, a different decision,” he said.
Karim has been in Israel for eight years and said he has seen government decisions changed many times. “We are now waiting for the High Court of Justice’s decision,” he said. The High Court froze deportations until April 9.
Karim, 25, said he would be willing to “go today” to a third country if it meant he would receive refugee status. “Better to go to a place where they actually want you,” he said sorrowfully.
“The news yesterday made us very happy,” Darfuri asylum-seeker and community activist Monim Haroon, 29, told the Post
. Hours after receiving the good news, he said, migrants were swiftly saddened by Netanyahu’s U-turn. Haroon noted that before the about-face, he and fellow migrants already had concerns about whether the government would follow through with the decision.
Haroon, who is part of the Fur ethnic group, escaped from Darfur six years ago. He recounted that he escaped death by a miracle at the age of 12, when he put on his sister’s dress and stood with his sisters while men were lined up and shot. He later became a political activist against the regime in Sudan, which sought his arrest. His mother was killed several years ago, he said.
“TODAY WE came here to tell the prime minister that this agreement is good for us as asylum-seekers that eventually [we] will be in a safe place and a safe situation. And it’s good also for the residents of south Tel Aviv that there will be less asylum-seekers there,” he asserted.
Haroon added that the support expressed by Israeli citizens for the migrant community filled him with hope. “I’m sure the government’s decision yesterday was because of public pressure, and I’m sure if the public continues to support us we’ll have a better situation, and the government in the end will make a positive decision because that’s how it works in democratic countries,” he said.
“I’m really disappointed,” echoed Atakliti Abraham, 34, from Eritrea.“The decision gave me strength and then I when I heard after 10:30 p.m. that they had destroyed what they had announced at 4 p.m. – I’m very sad. And again I’m now asking the Israeli government to give me refugee status – I’m a refugee.”
“The Israeli people are with us and we thank them, but I’m asking the government to give me rights,” he said. Abraham wishes to remain in Israel as a refugee until there is peace and democracy in his home country, to which he longs to return, though he noted that he truly feels Israeli and a part of the country.
Abraham recounted that he was forced to serve in the Eritrean Army for 15 years, since the age of 15. He lifted up his shirt to show the huge scars that remain on his back from being beaten. “I don’t want to be a refugee for even one day, but there is a dictator in my country and he wants to kill me,” he said.
The demonstration was organized by the South Tel Aviv Against the Expulsion group.
A leader of the group, Shula Keshet, lamented that Netanyahu had only met with a group of anti-migrant residents of south Tel Aviv that morning, who she said do not represent the residents of the area.
“We, the residents of south Tel Aviv are against the deportations of the asylum- seekers. We are against the neglect of the neighborhoods of south Tel Aviv and we demand that the prime minister see all of us as human beings and bring back the decision, which really focuses on human rights of the asylum-seekers, of the residents of south Tel Aviv.
“We will continue our struggle until we see that human rights decisions will be implemented,” she concluded.
Dozens of people attended the demonstrations, demanding that Netanyahu reinstate the decision and vowing to continue to fight for the rights of the asylum-seekers.
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