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New wave of Sudanese refugees faces uncertain future

About 200 of the 900 Sudanese who have recently arrived in Israel are children. Tamar Dressler/IRIN

Sudanese refugees seeking asylum in Israel undergo tremendous hardships, including arrests, while some end up living on the streets of the southern cities. Around 80 remain incarcerated in Israeli prisons, about half of whom are from the troubled region of Darfur.

In recent weeks, a relatively large influx of refugees, estimated at some 900 people, have entered Israel illegally through the porous border with Egypt.

As Sudan is considered by Israel an "enemy state", refugees from places like Darfur are seen as a security risk.

Israeli experts on their plight expect a government committee, headed by Interior Minister Ronnie Bar-On, to re-enact an immediate detention policy for all male Sudanese crossing the border, something they say will divide families and cause psychological hardship, especially to young children.

About 200 of the recent arrivals are children. Dov Khanin, who is a member of the Israeli parliament’s Child Welfare Committee, expressed concern that they do not receive medical care or education.

"I intend to take legal action to create a national committee to deal with the refugees," he told IRIN, saying he hoped this would help ease the suffering of the refugees in general, and the children in particular.

Bar-On said the Sudanese refugees pose a problem for Israel, but that they accounted for "only half of the Africans crossing the border into Israel”. He said one in every four Sudanese was from Darfur.

Five thousand refugees per year

According to government statistics, about 5,000 refugees arrive in Israel each year, and the number is growing. Israel currently does not have a clear immigration and refugee policy, causing many refugees to "fall between the cracks" some NGOs say.

Others are being threatened with deportation.

"It must be understood that many are refugees whose lives will be endangered if they are returned to Sudan," said Sharon Harel from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Tel Aviv.

In its recent report for World Refugee Day, the UNHCR said some 686,000 Sudanese are under its care, making them one of the largest refugee groups in the world.

Refugees no longer arrested

Currently, due to overcrowding in prisons, the refugees are no longer arrested but rather are dumped by the military on the sides of roads in Israel's south, observers say.

Many are assisted by volunteers and NGOs, but they say a governmental solution is needed immediately.

Photo: Tamar Dressler/IRIN
Volunteers are using their own resources to provide for the needs of many of the Sudanese refugees in Israel

"We're running out of options, the next refugees crossing will live in the streets," said Yiftach Milo, director of ASAF, a local organisation that offers aid to African refugees.

Elisheva Milokovsky, a 24-year-old student at Ben Gurion University in the southern town of Beer Sheva, has taken on the case of many of these refugees, without any resources.

"We get phone calls from the Israeli army saying 'we've released refugees in Beer Sheva, please take care of them'," Milokovsky said.

"Everything we do comes out of our own pockets, including medicines we give to the refugees," she added.

Some Bedouin tribes in the area have also offered aid, housing refugees in their cultural museum.


see also
Israeli NGOs strive to release jailed refugees

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