darfur child 298.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
For thousands of years, Beersheba has served as a rest stop for journeyers across the desert, but on Wednesday it also became a temporary home for 24 refugees fleeing Sudan.
The Beersheba Municipality opened the city's doors to the refugees only after they were tossed back and forth from the police to the IDF.
While the story really began hundreds of kilometers away in Darfur, Wednesday's drama started when the IDF gathered up three dozen refugees caught after crossing the long, vacant border with the Sinai, loaded them on a rickety bus and deposited them at the front gate of the Southern District Police Headquarters in Beersheba.
The 24 loaded on to the bus were refugees - men, women and children - who had walked across the desert to flee the massacres in their home country.
Many are Christians who did not want to end their journey in Egypt, because they felt that Christians are discriminated against by Sudan's neighbor to the north.
The IDF claimed that the people fall under the jurisdiction of the Public Security Ministry, as the army does not have any responsibility for civilian foreign citizens who have entered Israel without visas.
But the Southern District Police said Wednesday that they were not responsible for the refugees' well-being, and ordered the dazed bunch back on to their bus - and then directed it back to the IDF's Southern Command.
"The Israel Police are responsible for criminals, and that is not the situation here. The inability of the army to hermetically seal the Egyptian border is what caused this situation and the Southern District has no part in it," the police wrote in a statement.
"The problem - and the questions concerning it - should be addressed to the IDF and the Interior Ministry, and not to us."
Hours later - after the scandal had been reported on news Web sites and radio broadcasts - Beersheba Mayor Ya'akov Turner stepped up and offered the refugees a helping hand.
Turner announced that he had answered a government request to offer the refugees temporary shelter. He said the Beersheba Municipality's already-taxed welfare department would initially take charge of their care.
In light of the events Wednesday, MKs Avishay Braverman (Labor) and Gilad Erdan (Likud) sent a letter to Interior Minister Roni Bar-On asking him to give the crisis proper attention.
"It is unimaginable that the State of Israel treat survivors of a massacre searching for a refuge in her borders in such a way. We are appealing to you to immediately take care of the dozens of refugees who are likely to be thrown out of the Beersheba police station into the streets."
An estimated 300 Sudanese refugees have thus far entered Israel, 100 of whom have been "adopted" by the Kibbutz Movement and offered refuge on kibbutzim.
Usually, the refugees are arrested immediately after crossing the border. Soldiers on patrol take the men to the Ketziot Prison, a few kilometers east of the Egyptian Border, and the women, children and sick are taken temporarily to IDF bases where they receive food and basic lodging for a few days.
Once the refugees have been interrogated, and security forces are convinced that they are not affiliated with terror groups, the real question arises of what to do with them.
While many foreign nationals who have illegally entered Israel are arrested by the Immigration Police and deported to their countries of origin, the situation is different for the Sudanese. Police argue that the exhausted arrivals are refugees, not criminals, and cannot be expelled to Sudan because Israel does not have diplomatic relations with the Muslim-majority country.