1st Sudanese refugees arrive in Ketziot

'Campsite' near prison takes in 10 women and children who infiltrated overnight.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Ten Sudanese women and children became the first residents of the Ketziot Prison's refugee quarter on Tuesday after they were caught crossing the Sinai border in the middle of the night. The seven women and three children were moved to a caravan camp set up within the grounds of the prison, The Jerusalem Post has learned. The 10 men who crossed from Egypt with them were taken to the prison itself, where dozens of other male Sudanese refugees are being kept. The decision to move the Sudanese refugees to Ketziot near the Sinai border was made nearly two weeks ago. Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter announced that a special "campsite" was being erected to house the refugees in a fenced-off lot adjacent to the prison. Until that site is ready, the refugees will be housed in the caravan park on the prison grounds. The Israel Prisons Service said that although the accommodations at the campsite will be behind barbed wire, the atmosphere will be "homelike," with air conditioners, kitchens and a play area for children. Men and women will be housed together, as opposed to the interim caravans, where they can only see one another in the day time. "We all think that a refugee camp in the midst of Israel is bad for the refugees and bad for Israel," said Eytan Schwartz, spokesman for the Committee for Advancement of Refugees. "We are considering legal action against the detention of women and children." There are just under a thousand Sudanese refugees in Israel, with approximately one-third of them from the Darfur region, according to UN estimates. The caravans can only hold 300 women and children, but the adjacent campsite is being planned for 1,000 refugees. "We have begun work on the campsite and expect it will be ready in two or three weeks," said Yaron Zamir, spokesman for the Prison Services. "We do not know how long they will remain here. We have received them. It is not our job to determine what comes next." The Prime Minister's Office, however, has already announced that most of the refugees will be deported back to Egypt. While special consideration is being given to asylum seekers from Darfur, the rest of the Sudanese are expected to be deported within a few months. Returning to Egypt is the "greatest fear" of 42-year-old Michael, who asked not to use his real name. He is one of several hundred refugees living with Israeli families. Only the volunteers who placed him there know where he is. Although not from Darfur, he said the ongoing violence in Sudan had prompted him to seek asylum in Egypt. "Violence spreads and affects all of us in the country. I thought in Egypt would be better, but instead I only made my life worse," he said. Michael tells of daily beatings from local militiamen who operated around the Egyptian refugee camps. His arm is dotted with small scars, burns, he said, where cigarettes were stubbed out on his arm. "They were very cruel. They very much did not want us there," said Michael. "I was scared every day I left the camp to go to work that they would be too angry and that they would finish it for me." When Michael saved up several hundred dollars he bribed a group of Beduin to smuggle him into Israel. Since he arrived two weeks ago, he has slept on half a dozen different mattresses. Though he rarely leaves the Israeli family's home, he said that it was the first time he could remember feeling safe. "For the first time I sleep and do not listen for noise, for someone maybe coming to do me bad," Michael said. While Michael is slated to move to Ketziot, volunteers are hoping the government will allow the Israeli families to house the refugees until alternative to deportation can be found, such as moving all the Sudanese refugees to a safer African nation such as Ghana or Kenya.