EILAT (IPS) - Moses Gadia speaks quietly, a detailed and colorful map of South Sudan on the wall next to him. In the courtyard outside, a group of six men, all South Sudanese refugees, chat in the shade of plastic tarps.
“I’m 100 percent sure that by next month, this place won’t be here,” said Gadia, head of the South Sudanese Organization for Development in Israel (SSODI), about the group’s office in Eilat, the southernmost city in Israel.
“Many people are not working,” the 35-year-old father of three, all below the age of seven, explained. “Many people sleep in the courtyard here because there is no other place to go.”
There are an estimated 700 South Sudanese refugees in Israel, including less than 100 in Eilat. On Sunday, the Israeli immigration authorities began arresting South Sudanese migrants in preparation for deporting them from the country. According to the Israeli press, eight people have been arrested in Eilat and central Israel so far.
Until earlier this year, the South Sudanese were given unofficial group protection in Israel, which entitled them to remain in the country and protected them against detention. But the Israeli government argued that since South Sudan achieved independence in July 2011, the refugees could safely return home.
Originally meant to be deported by 1 April, the South Sudanese community in Israel received a stay of deportation. On 7 June, however, the Jerusalem district court rejected a petition asking to freeze the deportation orders indefinitely, opening the door for the deportations.
The Israeli government has also resorted to overt racist statements when referring to African refugees. Eli Yishai, the interior minister, said recently that he would use “all the tools to expel the foreigners,” claiming that “Israel belongs to the white man.”
“We hope that the price of Israel’s decision will not cost in human life, but we are afraid that it will,” Orit Marom, advocacy coordinator at the Tel Aviv-based Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum-Seekers (ASSAF) said. “We know that the situation in South Sudan these days is very, very difficult. More than half of the population is suffering from hunger. We know that the security situation is terrible.
“Yishai wants to show at any price that he put a few black people on the plane and call it a deportation. He doesn’t care that it will cost the lives of children. This is the opposite of Judaism. As a Jewish person, I can tell you that this is not to be Jewish, not at all, it’s just the opposite of the main values of Judaism.”
Yishai’s racist remarks echo those of other Israeli politicians, who have called African refugees “infiltrators” and a “cancer,” and accused asylum-seekers of violence and rape. Their presence in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier this month, “is very grave and threatens the social fabric of society, our national security and our national identity.”
Violence against African asylum-seekers in Israel — who, according to Israeli figures, number approximately 60,000, mainly from Sudan and Eritrea — has increased in recent weeks. Molotov cocktails have been thrown at refugees’ apartments in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and right-wing Israelis have vandalized shops and attacked asylum-seekers during violent protests.
Denied right to work
Back in Eilat, Moses Gadia said that he never personally faced violence at the hands of his Israeli neighbors. Still, without a job, providing for his children has become nearly impossible. He worked earlier at the Golden Tulip hotel in Eilat before Israel canceled group protection for South Sudanese refugees, terminating their work visas.
“The problem is not that I want to stay here to make money. The problem is I don’t know where I’m going,” said Gadia, who lived in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, and then in Egypt, before arriving in Israel five years ago.
“The last time I was in South Sudan was 1990; it means twenty years away from a place. All of us want to go to our country, but the problem is that it’s been a long time away and I don’t know where to go. I have children. I don’t know where to go. I have nowhere to go.”
Additional reporting by The Electronic Intifada.
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