sudanese refugees 298.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A new petition initiated by university students and signed by 63 MKs from a wide range of parties is urging the government not to deport Sudanese refugees to Egypt. "The refugees need protection and sanctuary," it argues, "and the Jewish people's history as well as democratic values make it a moral imperative for us to give them that shelter."
The students and MKs are right, given the chilling evidence that, for the Sudanese, remaining in Egypt can be a death sentence. In a Channel 10 interview on Saturday night, an Israeli soldier said he saw Egyptian soldiers kill four Sudanese who were attempting to cross the border into Israel. IDF soldiers saw two refugees being shot and killed as they approached the border, while a third was wounded.
The IDF soldier said he tried to help the fourth refugee scale the fence, but Egyptian soldiers grabbed the refugee's legs and aimed their weapons at the Israeli soldiers. The IDF soldier let go, fearing the Egyptians would shoot him, and saw the Egyptians beating the wounded refugee to death with clubs and stones. The whole incident was captured on video, which Channel 10 chose not to broadcast.
In this context, it should be obvious that a recent agreement between Israel and Egypt under which Israel would return some Sudanese refugees to Egypt needs to be reexamined. Israel must under no circumstances send refugees to their death.
At the same time, it is unacceptable that Egypt, a country that receives billions of dollars in assistance from the US and tries to portray itself as moderate and democratic, cannot act as a place of asylum for Muslim refugees fleeing a neighboring land.
It is unthinkable that Egypt will be treated like a civilized nation, including playing a pivotal regional diplomatic role, while it is treating refugees with complete barbarity.
A surprisingly frank article in the current Al-Ahram Weekly (Egypt) explains: "Excessively harsh socioeconomic conditions and racist attitudes in Egypt seem to be the main reason why Sudanese refugees want to relocate to Israel. Of the Sudanese refugees now resident in Israel, 71 percent report verbal and physical abuse as the main reason for their fleeing Egypt. Some 86% had refugee status with the UNHCR in Egypt, though those crossing the border spent an average of six months in detention upon arrival in Israel."
The article also notes that most of the Sudanese refugees heading for Israel are from southern Sudan, not Darfur, and that there are 400,000 Sudanese refugees in Kenya, 400,000 in Chad and 100,000 in Egypt.
It is clear that Israel is an attractive destination for Sudanese refugees seeking both economic opportunity and political freedom. The concerns of Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit, who predicted last week that the flow of refugees would rise from 300 to 3,000 a week, need to be taken seriously.
Sheetrit argues for building a fence along the open Egyptian-Israeli border, which has been needed for some time to combat smuggling and terrorism, as well as illegal immigration. Only one-tenth of those entering illegally from Egypt are refugees from Darfur, he told The Jerusalem Post.
"Israel can't take in hundreds of thousands of people. As a Jewish state, Israel should take in a quota of people from Darfur, care for them and help them find jobs - like we have done for other groups of refugees in the past," the minister said.
This would seem to be a sensible policy, but for it to work Egypt must be pressed by the international community to drastically improve its approach to this humanitarian crisis.
Further, the best solution would be to reduce and even reverse the flow of refugees by ending the genocide in Sudan. The staggering number of refugees flowing from one of the world's poorest countries to neighboring countries that are almost as, or more, destitute is the overarching humanitarian disaster. It is not a natural disaster, but a man-made one that must be handled with vigorous collective action by the international community.
Israel should be among those countries urging such international action, and doing its share to help those suffering and in need of refuge.