South Sudanese: Israel won't show us any mercy

Immigration authorities detain 70 South Sudanese nationals ahead of their planned deportation from Israel.

Aftrican migrants pack after night in TA park_370 (photo credit: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)
Aftrican migrants pack after night in TA park_370
(photo credit: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)
“All we wanted was more time, and Israel will not show us any mercy,” South Sudanese migrant Simon Mayer said on Monday, hours after immigration authorities launched a new wave of detentions of South Sudanese across the country.
Mayer said that members of Israel’s South Sudanese population, which numbers around 700, were for the most part staying behind closed doors on Monday to avoid getting scooped up by immigration authorities.
Mayer said mass confusion continues to grip the community, as well as bitterness about a protest campaign waged in recent months that failed to reach the hearts and minds of most Israelis.
“We held these [protest] actions for the past four months, showed people how our children are crying and nothing helped, nobody showed mercy. We won’t do this again, we don’t want the press to come and show a funeral on national television.”
As he spoke, the arrests continued in south Tel Aviv, Eilat, and elsewhere across Israel, while a group of four men sat outside a South Sudanese community center in the Neveh Sha’anan center, with looks of exhaustion on their faces. Inside the center, several Sudanese napped in a single room and a number of men present said that they were prepared to go when the officers come to arrest them.
Around the corner on Tchelnov Street, 39-year-old Simon Koang Gai continued to work on a leather bar stool at the “Holy Land” upholstery store he runs. The father of four had only minutes earlier watched immigration officials arrest several of his friends from a building a few doors down, but he said he would continue working until the officials came to arrest him.
He also said that while his children and wife are already booked on a flight leaving next week, he will stay behind until the last minute, partly so he can receive a paycheck he is owed by an Eilat hotel where he worked for a few weeks earlier this year.
“When they come I’ll be ready though,” Koang Gai said, before pointing at a small messenger bag on a wooden table.
“See that bag, when I came to Israel that’s all I had on my shoulder. If I have to, I can leave with just that.”
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post from Juba on Monday, former Jerusalemite Kai Khong talked about the confusion on the streets of the South Sudanese capital following reports of the deportations.
“We started hearing about it last week on the television after the court made the decision. There’s a lot of confusion in the news, we don’t [know] the real reason why they want to send South Sudanese back though.”
Khong, who lived in Israel for six years before moving back to South Sudan after the country became independent in July, said the decision to deport South Sudanese could harm relations between Israel and the new African state.
“The South Sudanese people love Israel, but this could change. People who come back could tell them, Israel is not our friend, and this is what I’m worried about,” Khong said, adding “South Sudan is a young country so it must look to other countries for help and decide which ones are its friends and which ones aren’t.”
Khong, who says he was the first South Sudanese in the country when he moved to Israel by way of Sinai in 2005, is now unemployed in Juba, and says a similar fate awaits those South Sudanese who return to the country after they are deported from Israel.
“They will not find jobs when they come back here, the country is very very newborn. If some people come back here with an education, maybe they can find jobs, but if not there are no jobs here.”
More than anything though, he expressed the confusion common among his compatriots in facing deportation in Israel.
“Why go after these few hundred South Sudanese when there are thousands of other Africans in Israel? This is the big question on the street in Juba. We just don’t know why.”
This week’s arrests by immigration officers of several dozen African migrants in the south and center of Israel is the first step in the eventual expulsion of all illegal migrants from Israel, Interior Minister Eli Yishai said Monday.
On Monday, immigration authorities rounded up some 50 illegal African migrants, following the arrests on Sunday of 25, including eight South Sudanese in Eilat.
The Population, Immigration, and Border Authority did not release official arrest figures by Monday afternoon, as the number was still rising.
Speaking to Israel Radio, Yishai said the real crux of the problem is the Eritreans and Sudanese who make up around 90 percent of Israel’s illegal African migrant community.
Yishai vowed to work to eventually expel them from Israel as well, adding that “I am not working out of hate of foreigners; I am working out of love for my nation.”
“Giving up on this mission would be tantamount to giving up on the declaration of independence,” he added.
According to Yishai, the detainees will be taken to a holding facility in the south of Israel and by next week will be on a charter flight to South Sudan.
The arrests follow a ruling issued by the Jerusalem District Court last Thursday, which rejected a petition by human rights groups to bar the expulsion of South Sudanese migrants, saying that the NGOs had not proven that the lives of returnees would be in danger if they return.
The arrests also began Sunday in spite of promises that South Sudanese would have a week to voluntarily leave before arrests begin.
Orit Marom of ASSAF, the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel, slammed the arrests as a “shame.”
“Children getting ready for school were taken from their homes in the early morning,” she told The Jerusalem Post. “It’s despicable.
How do they expect these people to submit individual requests to stay in Israel, as the state required of them, [while in custody]?”
The Population, Immigration and Border Authority said that though the week had not passed, they were still allowed to begin arresting the illegal migrants.