Sudanese refugees 'dumped in Israel's most dangerous spot'

With each new group that enters, the dam built by efforts of volunteers, non-profit organizations cracks.

Sudanese refugees 88 (photo credit: )
Sudanese refugees 88
(photo credit: )
Before Sudanese refugee Neeko Ragu arrived in Israel, his lay of the land was limited to the biblical towns of Bethlehem and Nazareth. On Monday, that geography was expanded to Jerusalem, Sderot and the Negev prison of Ketziot as Israeli officials scrambled to house the steady flow of refugees from Egypt. With each new group that crosses into Israel, the dam that has been built by the efforts of student volunteers and non-profit organizations cracks further. The network of volunteers that has operated in Beersheba and the Beduin town of Rahat has already managed to shelter and feed more than 2,000 refugees. Those volunteers warned the government that they had reached their saturation point last week, and announced that they would begin busing each new group of refugees that arrived at their towns to the doorstep of the government - the Wohl Rose Garden opposite the Knesset. On Monday night a group of 55 refugees, many from the Sudan region, prepared to spend the night in the garden. The day before, 58 refugees were bounced from Beersheba to the Knesset garden and back, only to eventually find housing in student dormitories outside the Kassam-ridden town of Sderot. "They don't understand what is happening to them. They are put in buses and treated like garbage, dumped here and there, and then finally thrown into the most dangerous part of Israel - Sderot. The State of Israel needs to be ashamed for the way they are treating these people," said Michal Yamine, a Beersheba resident who volunteers with the refugees. On Sunday, the 58 refugees, most from the Sudan region, spent most of their day in the Knesset gardens, only to be bused back to Beersheba well after midnight with promises of shelter from the Prime Minister's Office. Those promises, however, never materialized, and the Jewish Agency stepped in to house the refugees in the student dorms in Ibim, four kilometers outside of Sderot. After less than five hours of sleep, the refugees were awoken to receive their first government visitors - municipal workers from Sderot sent to explain to them the "Red Alert" system that would warn them of impending Kassam attacks. "They are going from one war front to another. We are just sending them to the communities that are too poor or weak to refuse them," said MK Nadia Hilou (Labor). "The Knesset needs to meet, and represent the voice of the public that wants to see better treatment of these poor refugees." The only semi-permanent housing solution that has been offered the refugees emerged Monday from Public Security Minister Avi Dichter. At the Kadima faction meeting, Dichter announced that his ministry would oversee construction of a refugee camp adjacent to the Ketziot Prison in the southwestern Negev desert. The prison already holds dozens of Sudanese males who were arrested when entering Israel, and housing new refugees there would allow them "to be close to one another while the government sorts out a personal arrangement for them," said Dichter. The camp will be staffed by Israel Prisons Service employees, with the Prime Minister's Office providing a budget for housing, medical and food supplies. Ministry officials termed the tent city a "hosting facility" and a "camping area" but in reality, the facility was more likely to resemble the neighboring high security prison, said Eytan Schwartz, a spokesman for the refugees. "We are not happy about this option, because we are not satisfied that the Prisons Service will know how to care for the young children and women who would be housed there," said Schwartz. "It is equivalent to housing them in the jail itself." Dichter's office said it was unclear when the refugees would be moved to the camp. Until then, dozens more are expected to arrive, with Beersheba municipal officials continuing to send them to the Knesset gardens. Last week, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced that he had reached an agreement with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to begin deporting the refugees back to Egypt. Although the government has already begun handing out deportation orders to the thousands of refugees that are currently in Israel, their actual deportation to Egypt is being deterred by inconsistencies in the promise made by Mubarak to assure their safety, said sources in the Prime Minister's Office. Until their deportation begins, dozens of asylum seekers continue to arrive in Israel through its porous southern border with Egypt. As each new group arrives and is processed by the IDF, they are dropped off on street corners in Beersheba. Rebecca Anna Stoil contributed to this report.