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April 05, 2007 - Image 16

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2007-04-05

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Photo by Brian Hendler/JTA

Photo by Brian Hendler/JTA


Sudanese refugees take part in an Israeli parliamentary committee meeting
on Sudanese refugees in Jerusalem in January. Avishai Braverman, co-chair
of the Knesset lobby for Sudanese refugees, center, is speaking.

Sudanese Muslims pray in their cell at Ma'asiyahu prison in Israel as they await a
United Nations decision on their refugee status.

A Troubled Exodus from page 17

Minimizing Security Risk
"The Israeli government is endeavoring to
deal with this issue as humanely as pos-
sible," said Mark Regev, a spokesman for
the Foreign Ministry. "Jewish history has
made us especially sensitive to genocide.
No one is being sent back to the inferno in
At the same time, he said, "we have to
take precautions" to minimize the security
risk given where the refugees come from.
In the March 21 court case, state attor-
neys argued that the system was work-
ing and there was no need to change the
legalities under which the Sudanese are
being held.
But in private conversations and in
Knesset testimony, some officials con-
tend that beyond the immediate security
concerns about individual Sudanese, the
greater fear is the ripple effect of even
more refugees seeking asylum in the
Jewish state.
The fault lines drawn around the
refugee battle between those advocating
deportation and those advocating granting
asylum is "a paradox," as one high-ranking
Jewish organizational official called it.
"Israel is deeply sensitive to the issue
of genocide this official said, "but it is
also worried about a massive influx of
Sudanese at its border."
The prevailing government preference is
to deport the refugees back to Egypt — if
Egypt will guarantee it will not deport
them back to Sudan.
"The natural and correct solution is a
return to Egypt:' Eliyahu Aharoni, deputy
director of the Immigration Police, testi-
fied to the Knesset in late December.


April 5


"Sudan is one of six
As to the porous border
nations that supports Islamic
with Egypt, it is not the
terror:' he said. "All the secu-
Sudanese that Israel most
rity services say that there is
worries about but terror-
a danger when it comes to the
ists like Muhammed Faisal
Sudanese. Detention or alter-
Saksak. On Jan. 29, the
native detention is legitimate
21-year-old Palestinian
in a democratic country and
crossed the border about
also in the State of Israel!'
12 miles north of the
Debate is being waged
resort city of Eilat and
about how many Sudanese
blew himself up in a small
would seek refuge here if the
bakery, killing three.
Michael Bavli, the Israeli
detainees are released from
In either a slip of the
representative of the
prison and accorded good
tongue or a calculated leak
treatment in the Jewish state. UN High Commission on
to remind the Knesset of
"What we do here will
the potential security risks
determine if 3 million will
of too liberal an asylum
come" from Egypt or will stay there,
policy, Aharoni of the Immigration Police
said Yossi Edelshtein, director of the
revealed to legislators in his Knesset tes-
Enforcement Unit of the Immigration
timony that "it appears that one Sudanese
refugee belonging to Al Qaida was
The 3 million figure is often cited by
Israeli policy makers, particularly in the
Half a dozen ministries, including the
security services. But others dispute those Prime Minister's Office, would not respond
to queries about the link.
"Anyone who talks about millions of
Daniel Ben-Zaken, the director of
Sudanese coming to Israel is scare-mon-
Ketziot prison, which is holding many of
gering," said Michael Kagan, an American
the detainees, told JTA: "We asked and
human rights lawyer who has worked in
we received no information about anyone
Israel and Egypt. "No one even knows that
connected to anything like that."
there are millions of Sudanese in Egypt;
In 2005, the security forces caught
some estimate there are only a few hun-
5,600 people trying to infiltrate across the
dred thousand.
Egyptian-Israeli border, including drug
"But, in any case, we're not talking about and weapon smugglers, women destined
all Sudanese. We're talking about refugees," for prostitution, foreign workers and refu-
he said. "The U.N. says there are only
15,000 Sudanese refugees in Egypt, and
In 2006, 100 of those caught trying to
of these, how many are going to pay big
infiltrate belonged to terror organizations,
money, risk their lives and risk arrest to go according to Israeli media reports. That
over the desert to Israel?"
same year, the U.N. High Commission for

Refugees in Israel saw an increase in its
case load, with 1,600 applying for refugee
or asylum status, up from 1,000 in 2005.
Most of the increase was from foreign
workers who did not want to return to
their native lands, often because of wars
in the Congo, Sierra Leone, the Ivory Coast
and other African countries.
The number of Sudanese seeking pro-
tection in Israel started to increase after
Egyptian police killed 27 and injured sev-
eral hundred Sudanese refugees protesting
outside the UNHCR office in Cairo at the
end of December 2005.
None of the Sudanese who have crossed
into Israel in the past 18 months has been
granted asylum or temporary refugee
status, according to Michael Bavli, head of
the UNHCR office in Israel.
This contrasts with the some 200 asy-
lum seekers from many countries, includ-
ing some Sudanese, who had been granted
permanent asylum in Israel between
1985 and 2005. An additional 700 non-
Sudanese refugees were granted tempo-
rary asylum during that time.

Internal Turmoil
With each new arrival stretching an
embryonic asylum system of the state, the
issue of the Sudanese has been coming to
a boil.
A Knesset lobby headed by Labor
Party member Avishai Braverman and
Likud member Gilad Erdan formed last
November to "push for the release of all
the prisoners who have sought asylum in
Israel," said the lobby spokesman Yehuda
Its focus is having the prisoners

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