TA: Sudan migrants rally to support independence vote

African migrants from S. Tel Aviv show support as independence referendum begins in S. Sudan that could create world's newest nation.

Sudanese refugee rally for independance 311 (photo credit: Ron Friedman)
Sudanese refugee rally for independance 311
(photo credit: Ron Friedman)
Hundreds of African migrants gathered in Levinsky Park near Tel Aviv’s central bus station on Sunday to show solidarity with the citizens of South Sudan, who were voting that day on a referendum on separation from the north.
While unable to vote themselves, the South Sudanese in Israel urged their countrymen to vote for independence.
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“The time has come to call for separation. It is a chance that won’t repeat itself,” said one of the speakers who took to the stage. “It is time to be serious about the future. We call on our brothers to be like Joshua and take our people to the Promised Land.”
Long accustomed to keeping under the radar of the Israeli public and authorities, on Sunday the Sudanese came out into the open, waving flags of the south, holding banners calling for separation and singing and chanting for their cause.
If the referendum goes their way and the government in Khartoum accepts the choice, they will be able to return home, some after years of involuntary exile. There are an estimated thousand South Sudanese living in Israel.
“We want to separate because since 1956 we have been at war with North Sudan and we are looking for our freedom,” said Changkouh Dieng, 38. “We have been fighting for almost 50 years and now for the first time have a chance to choose our own independence. We need to take the chance and present our own state to the world.”
Dieng said the Sudanese government was pressuring the South Sudanese not to vote. “They are looking for ways to disrupt the referendum, but unless they illegally stop it from taking place, we are sure that South Sudan will be independent.
Almost 4 million people registered for the referendum, all South Sudanese.
There is no question that they plan to have their own independent state,” he said.
Dieng, who has lived in Israel for six years, said the South Sudanese migrants at Levinsky Park had come to Israel fleeing from mistreatment by Sudanese government forces.
“They assaulted, kidnapped, tortured and killed the citizens of South Sudan during the war. Because of that they fled the country and came to Israel,” Dieng said. “We hope that if we get our own country and are left alone, we will be able to go back.”
Dr. Galia Sabar, chairwoman of African Studies at Tel Aviv University, said the future of Dieng and his fellow South Sudanese depended largely on Khartoum’s reception of the vote’s outcome.
“If [Sudanese President Omar] al- Bashir stands by his words and accepts the referendum’s results, it opens the door to serious state-building, meaning that the thousands of refugees will be able to return to their homes. If he won’t, it means war and thousands of new refugees,” she said.
Sabar refused to predict which way the choice would go but said that a lot was at stake.
“The referendum has huge implications, first and foremost for the people of the region who have been at war for decades, but also for wider circles of geopolitical interests,” she said.
According to Sabar, Sudan is a focus of diverging international interests, with the United States and the West pushing for independence and countries such as China and Iran pressing for continued unity. At stake are South Sudan’s massive oil reserves, which are currently used by the central government in the north, but in the case of separation will likely be split between the two.
Sabar said the South Sudan referendum was being keenly watched by other African leaders, afraid that if South Sudan successfully separates, it would be a precedent for other autonomy-seeking regions to attempt to imitate.