S. Sudanese facing deportation want more time

In a crowded south Tel Aviv basement, South Sudanese show bitterness, confusion over gov't announced deportation.

February 6, 2012 21:04
3 minute read.
S.Sudanese wave flags after independence [file]

S.Sudanese wave flags after independence [file]_390. (photo credit: Ben Hartman)


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South Sudanese citizens in Israel need at least a year or two before they will be ready to return home, a group of migrants said in a meeting held in South Tel Aviv on Monday evening.

Around three dozen South Sudanese crowded into a basement on the Neveh Sha’anan pedestrian boulevard Monday night, and spoke with a mixture of bitterness and confusion about a government decision announced last Tuesday by the Population, Immigration, and Borders Authority (PIBA) that gives them until April 1 to leave the country willingly or face forced deportation.

William Akon, a South Sudanese citizen studying at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, said that “we want the government [of Israel] to show us goodness, if they don’t, then South Sudan and Israel will have a peace like Egypt and Jordan have with Israel – where there are relations but Israelis don’t feel free to walk the street. We don’t want this.”

Akon called on the Israeli government to give them more time to prepare to return, as well as vocational training that will help them start their lives anew.

When asked if the community will hold demonstrations to protest the decision, Isaac Malik said he thinks that they would have no affect on the government, which is already aware of the situation in South Sudan.

“There is a war still going on between North and South Sudan, there are areas in South Sudan still claimed by the North, if you send people from these areas back, what will happen to them?” Malik asked. “They need to give us at least two years to prepare to return.”

Sunday Dieng said the community wants “to send the message to the Israeli government that we are not their enemies, we are their friends,” adding that if people are sent back now, they will find themselves on the street and will view Israel as their enemy.

The sentiment was repeated by Samuel Gak, who said Israel should not hasten to send people back to “a country with no security, no water. We need time to stay here and see how things develop in South Sudan.”

Others present spoke of suspicion towards non-governmental bodies that have been chartering flights to return South Sudanese home, particularly the International Christian Embassy, which has organized a number of such flights. Instead, they said they recognize only the legitimacy of the Israeli government and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to carry out the repatriations.

They also called on the Israeli government and the UN to examine their asylum requests – which they say have been ignored – on an individual basis.

In addition, they said the Israeli government should prove their claim that the South Sudanese government has called on all expatriates to return home, arguing that they don’t believe that the government would want everyone to return when South Sudan is not yet in a position to absorb them.

Before the meeting began, the men huddled around a small TV set and watched a live broadcast from South Sudanese television, in which military and governmental officials from Juba spoke of tensions with Khartoum and the fighting still plaguing the new-found state.

PIBA issued an English language statement with their relocation announcement, titled “A call for the people of South Sudan.” The agency said those willing to leave of their own volition will be provided with assistance by the state, including a onetime stipend of 1,000 euros per person. After April 1, the stipend will no longer be available.

In the statement, they said: “Now that South Sudan has become an independent state, it is time for you to return to your homeland.

While this is not a simple move, the State of Israel is committed to helping those who wish to return voluntarily in the near future.” The message also included a helpline for those seeking assistance.

The South Sudanese population in Israel is predominantly Christian and according to PIBA, they number around 3,000 in Israel. Members of the community themselves estimate the number to be far lower, closer to 500 at most.

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