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Government reverts to detention policy for Sudanese refugees

Sudanese refugee children in Israel.
(Tamar Dressler/IRIN)

After a lull of several weeks, the Israeli military have once again begun to arrest Sudanese refugees illegally crossing the Egyptian border into Israel.

In the past month the refugees were released onto the streets of Israel's southern towns and cities, where volunteers from charity organisations tried to help, directing them to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

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On 24 June several Sudanese men became the first to be detained in over a month. Six women, and another six children were found on the streets of the southern city of Beersheba by Avishai Cohen, who volunteers his time to help refugees, along with several other students from nearby Ben Gurion University. The women soon discovered that their husbands had been detained by the Israel Prisons Service.

"We get calls every night to come and collect refugees," said Cohen.

"Right now, Beersheba municipality is helping, hosting the refugees until Thursday [28 June] at a hotel here," he said.

Meanwhile, Israeli Interior Minister Ronni Bar-On has set up a new committee to decide the fate of the Sudanese refugees. The committee has completed its work, and filed its confidential conclusions to the prime minister's office.

More on Sudanese refugees in Israel

 New wave of Sudanese refugees faces uncertain future

 Israeli NGOs strive to release jailed refugees

The conclusions were supposed to have been made public on 25 June, but a spokeswoman for Bar-On said the publication is now dependent on the prime minister’s office. Officials said the report was likely to be released in several days.

Experts and government officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorised to speak to the press, said the final report would contain far-reaching conclusions.

Refugees to be arrested

Specialists also estimate that the Bar-On committee will recommend reinstating guidelines ordering security forces to arrest all refugees immediately upon arrival. A similar policy was cancelled about one month ago, after human rights and aid groups protested against the order.

Sudanese citizens are arrested in Israel as they are officially considered a “security threat” since Sudan is an “enemy state”. Israel applies this even to citizens fleeing persecution at the hands of the government of an enemy state.

Some Sudanese have spent over a year in jail, partially due to the fact that Israel and Sudan do not have diplomatic relations.

The Israeli military, which patrols the borders and arrests the refugees, said it transfers them immediately after detention to other authorities. The military admitted, however, that the refugees are not a security threat.

"The IDF (Israel Defence Force) apprehends illegal infiltrators from various countries, amongst them Sudan, crossing the border into Israel. Since this is not a security matter but an illegal immigration issue, the IDF is not the proper authority to deal with these infiltrators," military officials told IRIN.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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