South Sudanese migrants hold independence party in TA park

Refugees wave Israeli, South Sudanese flags and dance to reggae band. Recently 98% of South Sudan residents voted to split from the rest of Sudan.

southsudan311 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Over a hundred African migrants held a party in Tel Aviv’s Lewinsky Park on Monday to celebrate the coming independence of South Sudan, set to become Africa’s newest country on July 9.
The party took place in front of a stage set up in the middle of the park, near the local library and police station. The refugees waved Israeli and South Sudanese flags – the latter identical to the flag of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, which fought for decades against the north – and danced to a reggae band. A break-dancer spun in circles on the pavement following a blessing given by a South Sudanese priest reading from the New Testament.
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South Sudan is an autonomous region of around 10 million people. Recently, 98% of its residents voted to split from the rest of Sudan.
One of the organizers of Monday’s rally, 29-year-old Sunday Chagkouts, told The Jerusalem Post that he and his soon-to-be countrymen were celebrating because “we have been fighting for this for more than 50 years. People are very happy and very confident of what the future will bring for us.”
Decked out in a brilliant, almost blinding white silk suit, Chagkouts, from the Upper Nile state of South Sudan, said he expected that he “and many other Sudanese in Israel and around the world will start going back to help build our country.” He added that there could be violence due to disputes over the demarcation of the border, but he was very optimistic about the country’s future.
Fighting between northern and southern Sudan has gone on for over half a century and turned it into one of the more battle-scarred countries in Africa. The first civil war, from 1955 to 1972, left an estimated half a million people dead, while the second, from 1983 to 2005, cost the lives of anywhere between 2 and 5 million who died from the fighting, disease and war-related famine.
William Akon, 25, from the city of Aweil in Southern Sudan, was beaming throughout the entire celebration Monday because, in his words, “I am very, very happy that this [independence] has happened after a very long time. It’s what we have been longing for and what so many of us have given our lives for.”
In Israel since 2007, Akon related the story of a harrowing journey from country to country since being kidnapped from his family home 17 years ago by a pro-government militia. He said he was able to flee three years later, moved to Khartoum, where he lived for six years, before arriving in Egypt, where he worked for seven years before making his way to Israel.
“I’ve been gone so long that my parents wouldn’t recognize me if they saw me,” he exclaimed. “I plan to go back though, at some point soon, and hopefully my parents will be able to come here as well.”
Akon added that he hoped to study for a degree in Israel, although he couldn’t afford the tuition.
He said that he and many other Southern Sudanese hoped their new government would have friendly ties with Israel.
“The North sees Israel as an enemy, but we don’t,” he explained. “We hope that people from South Sudan will be able to come to Israel and have good relations with Israel and the Israeli people.”