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Sudanese asylum seekers take long bus ride to find bed for night

Awa, from Darfur, and her son Rami, 11 months old. in front of the Knesset. Shabtai Gold/IRIN
A group of about 60 Sudanese asylum seekers spent 8 July being bussed between Israel’s southern city of Beersheba and the lawns in front of the Knesset (parliament) in Jerusalem, as the authorities tried to decide where they could spend the night.

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The Sudanese, including some from Darfur, had illegally crossed the Egypt-Israel border in the past few days. Initially, the Beersheba municipality found lodgings for them, while others went to Rahat, a Bedouin town in the southern Negev desert.

However, a city spokesman, Amnon Yosef, said Beersheba could no longer afford to house the asylum seekers and the government was not transferring promised funds for their care.

"We've been taking care of refugees for two months. It's enough," Yosef said.

The municipality loaded the asylum seekers onto buses at about 0830am, and sent them to the lawns in front of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem.

More on Sudanese refugees in Israel

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 Government reverts to detention policy for Sudanese refugees

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 Israeli NGOs strive to release jailed refugees

"They came and told us nothing, and they put us on the bus," said Awa, from Darfur.

Aid groups in Jerusalem brought clothes, food and water to the group, which includes about 20 children. They also began to arrange for them to sleep on the lawns, as no alternative was available.

"At least now we have some food and clothes," said a grateful Gabriel Malachi (not his real name), from South Sudan, who recently crossed the border with his family.

"My foot was injured at the border," he said, pointing to a dirty, bandaged left ankle. A volunteer promised to find a clean dressing for him.

Camp-out at Knesset avoided

After several hours, they were sent back on the same 110km journey, to Beersheba. The government promised housing for the night to avoid a camp-out in front of the Knesset.

However, upon returning to Beersheba, the Sudanese found that nothing had been arranged, and they waited on the bus for hours.

Photo: Shabtai Gold/IRIN
Sudanese refugees wait on the lawns in front of the Israeli Knesset. The child in red in the foreground suffers mental retardation and was particularly distraught
Close to midnight, the Jewish Agency stepped in and found lodgings in a nearby town for the next 10 days. As fate would have it, on the way, a police officer stopped the bus and would not let them continue. At about 2am the refugees were at last sent to bed.

"This is going to happen again. Another 180 refugees will be sent to Jerusalem," said Rom Levkovitz, from the Hotline for Migrant Workers, noting that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) cannot cope with the influx.

The Beersheba municipality has repeatedly announced it will no longer care for refugees, and will send any and all to the doorstep of the government.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Internal Security and the Prisons Service agreed on 9 July, in the state's first step to deal with the influx of asylum seekers, to establish a "tent site" outside a major prison in southern Israel to house the refugees, given the recent crisis with the Beersheba municipality. A timetable for the project has yet to be finalised.

African asylum seekers

Human rights organisations estimate that about 2,000 African asylum seekers have entered Israel so far this year. About 70 percent are from Sudan, including over 250 refugees from the Darfur region.

Many have found housing and employment; however, the new wave is finding it harder to settle in.

Photo: Shabtai Gold/IRIN
The municipality loaded the asylum seekers onto buses at about 0830am, and sent them to the lawns in front of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem
Refugee experts allege that the lack of government care is a sign that an impending mass deportation of African asylum seekers is on the cards.

The government continues to maintain its stance that most of the asylum seekers will not get refuge status in Israel: A recent Israeli government decision said "infiltrators" would be sent back to Egypt.

Miri Eisen, a government spokeswoman, said: "There has been a trickle of refugees over the last few months" but "almost a flow of illegal economic migrants".

She added that the government was "trying to accommodate and address the Darfur issue as soon as possible".

“Afraid to go back to Egypt”

Refugees like Abdel Rahman from Darfur are worried: "I'm afraid to go back to Egypt. They tortured us there, killed some. The agencies don't help, not even with daily needs," he alleged.

"Especially after we've been in Israel, Egypt may send us back to Darfur, and that will be the end of us," he said.

''I'm afraid to go back to Egypt. They tortured us there, killed some. The agencies don't help, not even with daily needs.''
The Egyptian embassy in Tel Aviv said it could not comment on the matter.

Sudan's Minister of Interior Zubair Bashir Taha said on 9 July that Sudanese law will be applied to all returning to the country, which observers take to mean that refugees who have been to Israel will be punished. The two countries consider each other "enemy states".

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