African refugee gives account of being shot on the Sinai border

As Zefi Kalambay closed in on the frontier, he was hit by an Egyptian bullet just below his left knee.

african refugee shot in leg 224.88 (photo credit: Abe Selig)
african refugee shot in leg 224.88
(photo credit: Abe Selig)
As he made his way through the Sinai desert last Monday, Zefi Kalambay could see the lights of Israel in the distance when an attack dog began to bark. Kalambay began running and lost his sense of direction as the barking continued and the lights faded away. Moments later, he came under fire. "Bullets began whizzing by me," he said Sunday as he rested in an apartment near the central bus station in south Tel Aviv. "I could see the bursts of gunfire, and IDF soldiers on the Israeli side started calling out to me, telling me when to run and when to stop." Heeding their directions, Kalambay ran zigzags, dodging the bullets coming from Egyptian soldiers who had been alerted to his location by their dog. But as he closed in on the frontier, Kalambay was hit from the rear by an AK-47 round just below his left knee. He fell to the ground and the Egyptians vanished, leaving him for dead, he said. "But the Israeli troops came to me immediately," he said. "They began taking off my clothes, seeing where I had been hit. If it weren't for them, I would have bled to death in the desert. They saved my life." His story began far from Sinai. A Congolese national, Kalambay had been working in his country's embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, when problems arose that he still fears to discuss. Seeking refuge, Kalambay traveled to Cairo, where he remained in exile for seven years, trying to apply for asylum, sifting unsuccessfully through that country's maze of bureaucracy. "There is no law in Egypt," he said on Sunday as he lay on the couch, a fresh bandage covering his wounded leg. "I knew that the only way I would be safe was to come to Israel." So Kalambay left Cairo, stopping in El-Arish to ask the local Beduin how he could cross into Israel undetected. "They told me the right way," he said. "But after hiking for hours in the desert through the mountains, it became hard to avoid the Egyptian army." The Egyptian military's shoot-to-kill policy has kept many asylum-seekers from making it to Israel. From the border, Kalambay was evacuated to Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba. Three days later, he was discharged from the hospital and was faced with another problem. Without any family in Israel or anywhere to go, the hospital was ready to turn him over to what he called "the prison" - the Ketziot internment facility in the South that has become home to African refugees in Israel with nowhere else to go. That's when someone from Soroka contacted Oscar Olivier, a Congolese refugee in Israel who helps other Africans in need. "I came to his aid because he needed someone, and also because we are fellow countrymen," Olivier said on Sunday. Olivier hopes to secure Kalambay refugee status in Israel, as Congolese citizens are eligible for it under Israeli law. He is also working through charitable organizations such as Yad Sarah to help Kalambay get medical supplies and equipment. "Africans come to Israel because they are told they will be treated fairly here," Olivier said. "If you asked many of them to show you Israel on the map, they wouldn't be able to do it, but they still know this is the only place they can come that will help them." Kalambay nodded in agreement. "I'm just happy to be here," he said. "I'm just happy to be alive."