Sudanese refugees visit Knesset to stress their plight

Nearly 300 refugees from Sudan have landed on Israel's doorstep in the past several years.

Sudanese refugees 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Sudanese refugees 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
It took weeks for the refugee groups to organize the visit of several Sudanese refugees to the Knesset Tuesday. But it has taken them years to receive any recognition at all. Nearly 300 refugees from Sudan have landed on Israel's doorstep in the past several years. The ones who arrived first were arrested, but quickly released from jail and sent to live in small towns and in kibbutzim. Many of those who arrived later, however, remain in Israeli jails. "Many of the Sudanese came here because they thought that the Jewish spirit, the Jewish history would accept them," said Tomas Karno, who arrived in Israel from Sudan eleven years ago. Karno's case is unique: he married an Israeli woman and has received full citizenship. When the Sudanese refugees began arriving, he took it upon himself to help plead their case. "They come here and people tell them to go back 'home,' but where is home? The country that was trying to kill them? The country where they were raped and watched the people around them die?" said Karno. "The Jewish heart is sympathetic, we know this. We want the Jews to feel us in their hearts." The problem, explained MK Avshalom Vilan (Meretz), who organized the meeting, is that Israel considers Sudan an "enemy state" and the refugees are automatically arrested under anti-terrorism laws. The law holds that the refugees do not need to receive judicial review, leaving many to sit in jail for months before they receive an initial hearing in front of a judge. Those that are released to live on kibbutzim or moshavim, still do not receive official status in Israel. "They are basically forever 'under arrest,' said Eytan Schwartz, who helps Sudanese refugees plead their cases. "We have moshavim and kibbutzim who are willing to take them. Once they are there, they work, earn money, have real lives." Schwartz said 90 of the Sudanese refugees had been released in recent months, but that anywhere between 120-140 were currently in the Ketziot prison, and several dozen more at the Ma'asiyahu prison. In the coming weeks, MKs will visit the Ketziot prison facility to see how the refugees are treated. MKs Avishay Braverman (Labor) and Gilad Erdan (Likud) are heading the Knesset lobby to petition for the release of the refugees.