Sudanese allowed to stay - for now

Jewish Agency funds stay next to Sderot after refugees handed deportation orders.

By SHEERA CLAIRE FRENKEL, ILANA DIAMONDA
July 9, 2007 00:49
2 minute read.

 
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A temporary solution was found late Sunday night for the fifty-five Sudanese refugees who, at nightfall, were sent from Jerusalem to Beersheba with deportation orders in hand. The Jewish Agency agreed to fund the refugees' stay at a youth centre in Ibin, next to Sderot, for the next few days. Earlier Sunday, the refugees protested the government's asylum policy by camping out on the Knesset's doorstep before being bussed to Beersheba. The deportation orders have no time stamp, but the refugees believe it is only a matter of days before the government begins deporting them to Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak has promised they will be safe. "Every official has assured us that we will be safe - but no one has made us safe. We just want to live, we want to raise our children. We thought that Israel, especially the Jewish people, would understand this," said Anthony Peter, a Sudanese refugee who arrived in Israel two weeks ago. "Egypt was worse than Sudan. We feared for our lives. We feared for our children. I would rather that the Israeli government shoot me here, in a clean, humane way, than send me back to Egypt." Amnesty International and the UN representatives have advised Prime Minister Ehud Olmert against sending the asylum-seekers back to Egypt, where local Arab and Nubian armed groups have attacked the mostly Christian refugees. Vered Swid, Social Affairs adviser to Olmert, said most refugees were not in Israel due to fear, but for economic reasons. "We will be relying on the UN to interview refugees and recommend alternatives for any person whose life will be endangered by sending them back to Egypt. Israel cannot, however, continue to be an address for the millions of refugees in Egypt," said Swid. "Our plan is to begin deportation as soon as a mechanism is set in place." In the meantime, refugees continue to cross Israel's border with Egypt in groups of 15 to 20. They have become part of the stalemate between the government and local authorities, as each hands responsibility for the refugees to a small number of organizations and university students in Beersheba and surrounding towns. The Beersheba Municipality bussed the refugees to the Wohl Rose Garden opposite the Knesset on Sunday morning in a bid to force the government to act on the refugee issue. "We have reached the saturation point and can no longer provide shelter or food for the refugees. The government has repeatedly promised to act, but they have not. The city's resources and the resources of the charitable students and volunteers in the area are exhausted," said Beersheba spokesman Yossef Amnon. Last week, Olmert announced that the government would immediately begin deporting thousands of illegal African refugees back to Egypt. The number of African refugees in Israel has mushroomed in recent months. Amnesty International estimates that there are 2,400 in Israel, with dozens more arriving each day. Roughly 850 are from Sudan, while many of the rest come from Eritrea, Ghana and Kenya. The Prime Minister's Office said that when issuing deportation orders, they would take into account the refugees' country of origin and offer "special solutions" for those from Darfur. Meanwhile, the IDF has dumped most of the refugees on Beersheba street corners, leaving the volunteers and student groups to shelter and feed them. Mollie Gerber, who studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said students had initiated a letter-writing campaign directed at Olmert, and were collecting donations to deliver to the refugees. Students also began posting notices on on-line message boards, including the popular college network Facebook.com, asking students around the world to contribute.

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