Update: South Sudanese families released from detention in Israel; 100 set to fly to Juba Wednesday


Tomorrow (Wednesday August 8), many of the approximately 120 South Sudanese Christians who have registered with Israel’s government for deportation will fly to South Sudan.

This is the “last organized flight” planned for South Sudanese Christians who are residing in Israel, according to Sigal Rozen, policy coordinator for the Hotline for Migrant Workers, a Tel-Aviv based human rights organization that assists refugees and migrant workers in Israel.

Among the South Sudanese Christian families who are set to be deported tomorrow are some who had been held by Israel’s government in detention centers. They were released “somewhere in mid-July,” Rozen said in a phone interview from Tel Aviv on Monday.

Yet about 500 South Sudanese Christians remain in Israel, according to Rozen. These are people who have special circumstances.

“There are a few hundred more,” she said. “[Some] are married and have children with people from … North [Sudan] or the Nuba [Mountains in Sudan,]” she said. Others have health problems or lawsuits pending, mainly concerning the need to collect money owed them by former employers.

Rozen said Israel’s government deserves credit for reversing its policy of holding South Sudanese Christian families in detention centers. “The government released them, that was good,” she said, adding that the South Sudanese Christians are generally a “law-abiding” community and were intending, in many cases, to register for deportation when they were arrested.

“The majority of the South Sudanese [Christians] were working for years at the same places; when [Israel’s government] told them they had to go, they came and registered,” Rozen said.

Yet she characterizes the government’s ongoing approach to deportation of this community as lacking in respect and consideration for families.

For example, she said that, after they were released from prisons in mid-July, many South Sudanese Christian families were told by Israel’s government to be on the next flight to Juba, which is the capital of the newly independent nation of South Sudan. But because only one flight per week leaves from Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv to Juba, not everyone released from prison could get on.

“People receive a phone call saying, ‘All right, you are on the flight tomorrow,'” said Rozen. “With children this is difficult. After spending the day at the airport [some] were told, ‘There was no place, so you are on the next flight.’ So they are left for the week with no place to stay … So it is not well-organized.”

Rozen is concerned for those South Sudanese Christians who might not make it on to tomorrow’s flight.

“[Israel’s] government has already threatened people, whoever will not be on these flights they registered [for], will be arrested,” she said. But she stresses that, if previous Wednesday flights are an indicator, the number of South Sudanese awaiting a seat will exceed the number of seats available, leaving the South Sudanese in a Kafka-esque quandary.

“It’s a good example of how the government handles the situation with such disrespect and little consideration, especially [considering these are] families with children,” she said. “They hold them at the airport for so many hours. You want as many people as possible to register, so you overbook the flight. They [South Sudanese] go to the airport at 11 a.m. and then, at midnight, it’s, “Sorry, you will not have a place on the flight … Go back, find yourself a place [to stay] even though you have closed your life.”

She said Israel’s government has said that anyone who has registered for deportation but is not on the flight they have registered for will be deported minus the money the government is giving to each Sudanese Christian who has agreed to repatriate, and without their luggage.

Rozen believes that Israel’s government’s approach to deportation of the South Sudanese Christians is linked to incitement that she says has been carried out in recent months by certain Israeli politicians. She stressed that “it is not the Israeli people” who are prejudiced or even unsympathetic to the plight of Africans seeking asylum, but that certain “decision-makers” have engaged in a campaign of misinformation that she believes has led to several incidents of hate crimes against asylum-seekers on the part of Israelis–something that had previously been a rare phenomenon in Israel.

The Hotline for Migrant Workers recently released a study, “Cancer in Our Body,” on “incitement, discrimination, and hate crimes against asylum seekers in Israel.” It is available online.

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