A Sudanese refugee child in Israel.
Photo: Ariel Jerozolimski
It is 1,128 miles from Khartoum, Sudan to Jerusalem, Israel. Many Sudanese travel at least this distance to reach Israel in order to escape persecution or to seek economic opportunities. Just this past weekend 70 Sudanese refugees joined the other 1,200 Sudanese refugees and illegal immigrants already living in Israel. These immigrants have found shelter in Kibbutzim and private homes but the daily influx of Sudanese has unfortunately led to the state-sanctioned policy of housing Sudanese men in Ketziot prison, alongside security prisoners. The lack of shelter options, health-care and education are just a few of the problems the refugees have faced since arriving in Israel. These issues have raised the question: does Israel have a unique responsibility to shelter and provide for refugees?
Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit announced that a top priority is to build a fence along the Egypt-Israel border to prevent the illegal flow of immigrants and refugees into Israel. As for the illegal immigrants that are already in Israel, Prime Minister Olmert’s bureau recently announced that Israel would absorb the roughly 300 refugees from Darfur, but will deport migrant workers and non-Darfur Sudanese people to Egypt. This decision is distressing because Egypt recently shot and bludgeoned several Sudanese asylum-seekers trying to cross the border into Israel and refugees confessed that they were persecuted while traveling in Egypt. These events indicate that deportation to Egypt could threaten the refugees’ safety.
Israeli university students have become particularly active on this issue and launched a petition against deporting Sudanese asylum-seekers to Egypt. 63 members of Israel’s 120-member parliament have signed the petition that declared: “The refugees have sought protection and sanctuary in Israel. The history of the Jewish people and universal moral values mean [that] we have to offer it.” Knesset Member Yuli Edelstein echoed many people’s concern when he said, “The State of Israel has to do all in its power to aid the Darfur refugees, because they’ve been through a terrible massacre, and returning them to where they’ve fled from could cost them their lives.” Another Knessest member and signatory Zevulun Orlev said that, “Jewish morals and Jewish history obligate us to treat refugees in peril with the utmost sensitivity.”
I believe that it is important for Israel to accept the Sudanese refugees and that any housing, educational and health-care issues can be overcome by true political will. These refugees would not have been displaced had the international community intervened before the conflict mounted to its current humanitarian crisis. Many countries, namely the United States, have spoken-out against genocide in Darfur, but have not committed military forces due to political and logistical reasons. Actively accepting some of the 2.5 million Darfurian refugees is a non-military display of commitment to the lives of Darfurians. While the world callously delays the implementation of a robust UN-AU peacekeeping force, the minimum that the international community could do is offer protection to the refugees.