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(photo credit: Courtesy)
A prominent Jerusalem based Evangelical Christian organization is assisting three dozen Sudanese refugees who slipped into Israel from Egypt last week, the group announced Sunday.
The International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem is providing room and board for 37 Sudanese refugees, mostly Christians, for the next three weeks, until they can be relocated to Israeli communities that are willing to take them on a temporary basis.
Acting in coordination with Israeli relief organizations, the evangelical group raised $30,000 in 24 hours on behalf of the refugees, who were originally going to be hosted by the Islamic Movement in Israel.
"These are people who have struggled to get out of the most horrific conditions, and we felt compelled to share the burden with the State of Israel to help them," said Rev. Malcolm Hedding, the executive director of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem.
"The State of Israel gave them a refuge and the Christian Embassy, with the help of thousands of Christians from all over the world who answered our call for help, will take care of their needs," he said.
Hedding added that it was "not appropriate" for the Islamic Movement or for Beduin to host the refugees.
The 10 refugee families - two of them Muslims from Darfur and eight Christians from southern Sudan - crossed the Egyptian border on Friday night with the assistance of local Beduin, who hosted them for two nights. They moved to a hotel in Jerusalem's Old City on Sunday, where they will undergo medical examinations.
Approximately 450 Sudanese refugees are in Israel seeking asylum, said Anat Ben-Dor, founder of the Refugee Rights Clinic, which provides free legal aid to dozens of asylum seekers.
The refugees are living in a legal limbo because Israel originally defined them as enemy nationals, she said.
Following public pressure, 250 of the Sudanese had been released from Israeli jails, while about 150 are still incarcerated, Ben-Dor said.
Many Sudanese refugees find life difficult in poverty stricken Egypt, and have repeatedly tried to enter Israel illegally.
Egyptian riot police violently cleared a Sudanese refugee encampment in central Cairo in 2005, killing almost 30 people.
"These destitute Sudanese refugees told us that they came to Israel because here their human rights can be respected and they will be free from danger," Hedding said.
"It is remarkable that while some highly educated British academics consider Israel a racist and immoral country, these simple Sudanese refugees seem to know better," he said.
"We escaped from Sudan to Egypt seven years ago. But the Egyptian government threatened to throw us into jail because we are refugees. We had no choice but to escape once again, to the only democracy in the Middle East, where we knew our human rights will be honored," said one of the refugees, a 30-year-old man who arrived with his pregnant wife and two-year-old daughter. "We cannot go back to Sudan, that would be a certain death sentence for all of us."
"We coordinated their arrival with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Israeli authorities and human rights organizations. These three weeks will give them the chance to contact kibbutzim or moshavim that are willing to absorb them," said Charmaine Hedding, in charge of strategic development at the Christian Embassy, who coordinated the assistance and the funding.