127 South Sudanese Refugees ‘Voluntarily’ Deported
Israel uses threat of indefinite imprisonment, small financial inducements, to force out the refugees.
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
123 Sudanese refugees left Ben Gurion Airport on a charter flight this morning for Juba, the capital of the new nation of South Sudan. Four others took regular commercial flights.
Israel gave each of the refugees who agreed to leave Israel voluntarily rather than be deported a one time financial grant: Adults were given $1,300 each; Children got $650, the AP reported.
South Sudanese Interior minister Alison Manani Magaya told the AP that a delegation of South Sudanese officials was in Israel to assess how many will return refugees will return to South Sudan. She said those who did return would get the same help given to Southerners returning from northern Sudan.
"They [the South Sudanese refugees in Israel] can come [home] and stay with their relatives. They were there because of the [Sudanese civil] war. The war is over and they should come back home.…[Israel] is [Israelis’] country. If they don't want [South Sudanese] there, then they can come home," she said.
“[The South Sudanese refugees being ‘voluntarily’ deported] tell the cameras, we are happy, we are proud, but in private conversations, they tell us they're very afraid," Orit Marom, an Israeli who works to help the refugees told the AP.
60,000 other African refugees remain in Israel. Most cannot be legally deported under International law.
But Israel has sought ways to circumvent that law and deport them anyway.
"All those who boarded the flight back to Sudan did so voluntarily," Amnon Ben-Ami, the director of Israel’s Population and Immigration Authority told Ynet. He also claimed that more than 500 South Sudanese have asked to return to South Sudan "in the framework of this process" during the past week.
But aid groups and other observers claim the refugees were given a choice: stay in an Israeli prison awaiting deportation indefinitely or go back to South Sudan ‘voluntarily’ and with a small financial inducement. None were given the opportunity to apply for legal refugee status – which,if true, is itself a violation of International law.
Hundreds of African refugees were arrested during the past week in a nationwide sweep staged by Ben-Ami’s police after the Jerusalem Administrative Court granted the State's request to end the "collective protection" status for South Sudanese refugees in Israel. That move effectively sanctioned deportation.
Approximately 1,500 South Sudanese currently live in Israel.
About 300 of them were arrested in the sweep and being held in prisons or closed detention centers.
Ben-Ami told Ynet they all would be deported, as well.
The next charter flight carrying deported South Sudanese refugees will leave next Monday, Ben-Ami said.
About 50,000 of the remaining African refugees in Israel are from the rest of Sudan and Eritrea. Israel cannot deport them either.
But Ben-Ami told Ynet he will continue to hunt, arrest and deport 4,000 other Africans, 2,000 of whom are from the Ivory Coast, 1,500 from South Sudan (1,500), and the remaining 500 from other African countries.
Israel’s haredi Interior Minister Eli Yishai hatched the deportation plan. He met the refugees at the airport as they were leaving.
"The big story here is [Northern] Sudan and Eritrea. I hope the legal obstacles that prevent the deportation of migrants from these countries will be removed," he said.
But Yishai knows that sending refugees back to Darfur or Eritrea is a "death sentence,”
Rami Godovitch, an activist who helps Africans trying to get refugee status in Israel, told Ynet.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the African refugees "a national scourge.”
Sunday he told his Cabinet that he has stopped allowing African refugees to enter Israeli cities. Instead, they are being arrested at the border and immediately detained.
"Jews have a tradition of treating foreigners humanely, and even when we have to remove them from within our midst out of a state's desire to rule its borders, we shall do it humanely and express ourselves with restraint and humanity," he reportedly said.
Gabriel Takala, a 31-year-old Eritrean asylum-seeker who came to Israel five years ago, is afraid.
"We left Eritrea due to severe political problems. Those who left will be killed or jailed for life if they are forced to return. If we have no choice, we'll prefer to remain in prison in Israel rather than be sent back to Eritrea. We ask that Israel protect us,” he told Ynet.