Waiting, hoping and guessing remains the norm
The fall of the man who ran the Sudan with an iron fist for three decades, President Omar al-Bashir, appears to be having little or no effect on the plight of that nation’s refugees who sought safety in the Jewish state. Experts say the primary reason is the absence of diplomatic relations between the two nations.
Emanuelle Navon, Senior Fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, explained that refugees are not at risk for deportation to Sudan from Israel because the two countries lack formal ties.
“The fact that Omar al-Bashir is toppled doesn’t change anything in the absence of diplomatic relations,” Navon told The Media Line. “If there is a new regime that is willing to have diplomatic ties, which is unlikely, that would be a game changer.”
Shira Abbo, spokesperson for Hotline for Refugees and Migrants – a Tel Aviv-based non-profit, non-partisan organization that defends migrants and refugees rights – agrees. “Until there are new diplomatic relations, there is no threat of their deportation,” she said. But they do face major obstacles. Abbo told The Media Line that most Sudanese do not have legal status in Israel. “They have very basic rights, and neither social nor health rights. Their visas do not permit them to work but the state has committed to not enforcing this because many of them have been here for such a long time.”
According to Abbo, “The Israeli immigration system is all about not making decisions. The state operates on how long we can delay making decisions, how long we can exhaust these people so that they give up and leave on their own.” She argues that Sudanese refugees want to be granted the same legal status as other refugees concerning time limits, but that Israel continues to oppose this with the argument that there this a possibility the Sudanese ex-patriates would be granted status and then be denied. The Court ordered the Israeli government to review this solution and come up with an alternative plan showing how long it will take until it is implemented.
The High Court of Justice, Israel’s Supreme Court, is now handling the question of how long Sudanese refugees from Darfur and South Sudan must wait for their asylum requests to be granted. While there have been several hearings, the latest occurring last month. Abbo does not expect them to make a decision anytime soon.
“Our experience with the Israeli court system suggests it will take a while.” Abbo contends that President al-Bashir’s ouster might even delay the status decision of refugees. “The state has a more ‘valid’ excuse now to say they need more time to consider their asylum as the situation in Sudan is unclear.”
Nisim Versano, a lawyer with a Tel Aviv firm dealing with asylum seekers in Israel, stated, “The state hasn’t commented on it. So for right now we do not know what’s going to happened. We expect them to address this when they give their response to High Court [for their new plan] around May 18th or 19th.”
However, few believe anything will change citing a decade of inactivity.
Monim Haroon, a Sudanese refugee living in Jerusalem, is stuck in bureaucratic limbo.
“I submitted my asylum request in 2013 and I haven’t heard back yet,” he told The Media Line.
Emanuelle Navon explains that while the government has not always been expedient in processing asylum requests, deciding individual asylum cases is even more difficult because refugees cannot always prove they are indeed refugees.
Navon explained, “We use the word ‘refugees’ but it hasn’t been established. Physically, they reached Israel by crossing through Egypt. But in order to be considered refugees, their lives would have to be in danger in Egypt.”
Navon states, “This raises serious questions about their claim about whether they are actually refugees.”
Navon explained to The Media Line, that as a result of a lack of evidence, many refugees are stuck in a “grey zone” where they are granted temporary residence status and their cases remain undecided.
“It is unknown why many Sudanese are stuck in a “grey zone,” whether it is a mixture of legal fuzziness and maybe a lack of efficiency,” said Navon, in an attempt to help unravel the knots of bureaucracy.
Monim Haroon actually was shot at by Egyptian forces while crossing the Israel-Egyptian border.
Blaming the state of Israel for his mistreatment, including imprisoning him for two and a half years, Haroon nevertheless differentiates between the Israeli government and the rest of Israel.
“The government has called us ‘infiltrators’ saying that we are a cancer in the body of Israel, but Israeli society accepted me and never treated me in a racist way. I have a real respect for Israeli country and society, also for the military as well…The Israeli army saved my life and treated me with dignity.”
Haroon explained that the military welcomed him and other refugees into Israel after running from Egyptian army fire, which killed some in his group.
“The Israeli army came and said welcome and brought us in army trucks to their bases. They gave us food and medical care; I could not forget their treatment… It was a very emotional moment for me because I thought we were going to die.”
Anat Ben- Dor, clinical instructor at the Refugee Rights Clinic at Tel Aviv University, explained that repatriating refugees to their homeland is a process which takes time in order to avoid harm.
“In refugee law, in order to return people, you have to ensure their return will be done safely. A coup does not qualify as such,” Ben Dor told The Media Line. “Normally, if there is a revolution of sorts, there will not be a hasty return.”
Sudanese refugee Monim Haroon told The Media Line, “Our first and main goal is to return[home].” Apparently seeking to allay Israeli government concerns, he declared that, “when there [will be] real change in the government, people will leave voluntarily, and the [Israeli] government will not need to deport us.”
Haroon posits that the military currently in power does not provide the real change Sudan needs for its citizens and returning refugees.
“These people are worse than al-Bashir. Maybe he ordered us killed, but they are the ones that killed us. The chairperson of Sudan’s transitional military council [Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan] killed my family and burned down my village in Darfour.”
A student at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University studying politics and business administration, Haroon wants to use his degree to help the Sudanese people once it is safe to return. “I want to go back to my country and help build a new democratic liberal country.”
(Tara Kavaler is an intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program)