Darfur refugees establish bond of suffering in Yad Vashem visit

Yad Vashem stresses importance of raising awareness about Darfur, encourages solidarity.

Sudanese Yad Vashem 298. (photo credit: AP)
Sudanese Yad Vashem 298.
(photo credit: AP)
As the violence in Sudan's Darfur region continues to claim more lives every day, a small group of Sudanese refugees walked the halls of Yad Vashem on Monday, taking in the reflections of a violent time in history that seems all too familiar to them. The refugees, like many others in recent years, made their way from the war-torn western province of Darfur through Egypt and into Israel illegally, where they were arrested and placed in jail. While many still remain in Israeli prisons, some were placed in kibbutzim to await visas that will allow them to immigrate elsewhere. The group of 12 Sudanese men were greeted by Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev, who stressed the importance of raising public awareness about the genocide in Darfur and encouraged solidarity between the Jewish and Sudanese people. "As Jews, who have the memory of the Holocaust embedded within us, we cannot stand by as refugees from genocide in Darfur are knocking on our doors. The memory of the past, and the Jewish values that underpin our existence, command us to humanitarian solidarity with the persecuted," Shalev told the visitors. The Sudanese, who remained stoically silent throughout their visit to the museum, seemed unwilling to reflect on the horrors they themselves had experienced in Darfur. After the tour, however, the Sudanese were quick to point out that they and the Jews are bonded by their shared experience of genocide. "I see myself as if I were in Germany, as if I were a Jew," said one of the Sudanese, who must all remain nameless to ensure the safety of their families in Sudan. That feeling of having shared a similar fate is reciprocated by numerous American Jewish organizations that are a part of The Save Darfur Coalition, the largest and most active organization in America working to increase awareness and promote a resolution to the genocide in Darfur. Joanne Crouth, who works with The Committee for Advancement of Refugees from Darfur, (CARD), an Israeli organization which brought the refugees to Yad Vashem, broke into tears while she watched the Darfurian men walk through the exhibit. "They've been through so much," was all she could say. The Jerusalem Post reported on February 19 that MKs Gilad Erdan (Likud) and Avishay Braverman (Labor) promised to propose legislation that will grant refugee status to the nearly 300 Sudanese refugees remaining in Israeli prison. The bill, however, has not been finalized, according to Erdan's office. When asked if Jews should feel obligated to help stop the genocide in Darfur, one Sudanese man said simply: "Jews should be the first people to help; if Jews don't help no one will."