IDC students move to stop classmates' deportation

S.Sudanese students say they want to stay in Israel until spring, 2014, to finish their bachelor degrees.

Gabriel (L), William (R), S.Sudanese students_390 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Gabriel (L), William (R), S.Sudanese students_390
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
A group of students from the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya (IDC) has launched a Facebook campaign in a last-ditch attempt to stop the deportation of three classmates from South Sudan.
The Facebook page, entitled “IDC Students against the deportation of 3 students from South Sudan,” was opened last week to support students William Akon, Gabriel Thon, and Deng Menyeal. The three face deportation on April 1 following a decision made by the Interior Ministry earlier this month that gives South Sudanese in Israel until March 31 to leave the country willingly or face deportation.
All three students insist they only want to be able to stay in Israel until the spring of 2014, when they would finish their bachelor degrees at the IDC’s Lauder School of Government.
Ahead of a microeconomics exam Sunday afternoon, Thon and Akon took some time at the IDC campus to speak about the importance of finishing their degrees, and the long and winding path that brought them to the Lauder School.
34-year-old Thon’s life story reads like a movie, albeit one with a horrifying plot line spanning a half a dozen countries as a refugees.
Thon said he first became a refugee at the age of 10, when militia men from the North raided South Sudanese villages, kidnapping and murdering young boys like him. Thon said he fled South Sudan for Ethiopia thus becoming one of tens of thousands of “Lost Boys of Sudan,” young children orphaned and made homeless by the Second Sudan Civil War.
Thus began a 15-year odyssey where Thon lived as a refugee in several eastern African countries, before finally ending up back in Khartoum, from where he fled to Egypt in 2004.
Thon said he decided to make the journey to Israel after the events of December 30, 2005, when Egyptian riot police raided a protest camp set up by Sudanese outside the United Nations High Commission for Refugees office in Cairo to demand relocation in a third country. In the violence that followed, police killed 12 protesters according to Egyptian Interior Ministry figures, though protesters said the number was far higher. Following the bloodshed, hundreds of Sudanese were taken to a number of detention facilities outside Cairo by Egyptian security forces, according to testimony given by protesters after the raid.
Thon then fled to Israel, where he said he spent 11 months in prison upon arrival.
In 2008, he said he began working as a gardener and found a sponsor for his matriculation studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the first step in the path that brought him to the IDC. Like his friends, he benefited from the kindness of Israeli sponsors at several steps along the way, and was helped by generous scholarships given by the IDC.
When asked why he chose to study government in his time outside of work, Thon spoke of the benefits he expects to reap down the road when he returns to South Sudan.
“South Sudan is a young nation so I can be in a capacity to help. You see all these wars, it’s all very complicated and if we have good people who are real politicians I think wars like this could be avoided.”
Like his South Sudanese classmates, Thon said he also needs the legal work documents so he can support himself through his work. Last week, the Interior Ministry said it will begin prosecuting employers hiring citizens of South Sudan beginning April 1.
Thon’s classmate, William Akon, says he’s not sure how old he is, but he guesses 26.
Akon said he came to Israel on his own in 2007 after seven years in Egypt as a Sudanese refugee. Like Thon, he said he fled Egypt after the killings at the Cairo protest camp made him no longer feel safe in the country. He added that he had slept at the protest camp on many different nights and that to his good fortune, he happened to be elsewhere in the city when the clashes occurred.
Akon said when he was around eight or nine years old he was abducted by militia men from the North and found himself working as a slave for an abusive family that held him against his will. After three years in which he said he was repeatedly abused, he managed to flee to a nearby town where he said he jumped a freight train to Khartoum. He said he then began doing agricultural work in eastern Sudan to save money to make his way to the South, only to be arrested by government troops who accused him of spying for South Sudanese rebels camped near the eastern border. After two weeks of torture and interrogations he said he was sent back to Khartoum, where he began plotting his escape by way of a Nile river steamship to Egypt.
Like Thon, Akon speaks of having a future in politics, a desire that’s quite common among his resume-building fellow students at IDC. He also says he feels that an education will set him apart in South Sudan, and pave his way to become a leader of the infant country.
South Sudan is one of the world’s poorest and most under-developed countries.
According to World Bank figures, three out of four heads of household have no formal education whatsoever, and illiteracy and child mortality rates in the country are among the highest in the world.
Akon said he feels that he can go back to South Sudan and apply the knowledge he has gained in Israel, saying “I will help make South Sudan a better place. I think that through a good government a country can be a good country.
“In South Sudan there are no hospitals, no development, and no education. So if someone goes there with a degree absolutely he or she will be one to build South Sudan.”
His sentiments are common among African asylum seekers in Israel, who frequently call on the government to give them an education or vocational training before they return to their home countries.
Akon seems to have set his sights a bit higher than usual however.
“I could be an ambassador. Why not? I know Hebrew, I know about Israel. I can be an ambassador or diplomat, or work at the Israeli embassy in South Sudan.”
In a response to a Jerusalem Post query on Sunday, the IDC said it has sent a letter to the head of the enforcement branch of the Interior Ministry requesting it allow the three students to finish their studies before returning to South Sudan.
According to the IDC, Jonathan Davis, the head of the business school and vice president of the university wrote in the letter that the education of the three students, who arrived at the school “after an arduous and bloody journey,” will have an effect not only on them but also on “an entire people [South Sudanese].”