Warming Israeli-Sudanese Relations Worry Asylum Seekers Waiting for Refugee Status

On Monday night, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Sudanese leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan in Uganda, Faisal Sadiq Adam sat in his Petah Tikva home watching the celebratory reports on television news. He heard the prime minister’s emotional words, “I met in Entebbe with the chairman of Sudan’s Sovereign Council, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and we agreed to begin cooperation that will lead to normalizing the relations between the two countries. History!” And he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

“I’m living in Israel 12 years now, I work as a car mechanic and try to earn a decent living and live my life without bothering anyone,” he said. “During all my years here Netanyahu and his ministers curse us, incite against us, act toward us as if we aren’t human beings, yell at me in the street that I’m a cockroach, that I’m black and disgusting, but suddenly one can talk with a Sudanese man? You mean all Sudanese aren’t cancer? You can negotiate with them?” He said that the Sudanese community is now feeling worried and scared.

“We are living here without residential status, which means they can undermine in one blow all our security in life and everything we’re trying to build,” said Adam, another asylum seeker from Sudan, who has three children and has been living in south Tel Aviv since 2012. “Think of yourselves, you live in a certain city, your kids are in school, you have work, but you always have the fear that one day some politician will want to get more votes at your expense and will send you and your children to a dangerous country, and everything you try to build will be destroyed.”

A protest of Sudanese asylum seekers in Tel Aviv, April 2019.Tomer Appelbaum

Sudanese nationals are not currently being repatriated to their native land, but not because Israel recognizes Sudan as a country in crisis. A few years ago the Population Authority cited “the practical difficulties of carrying out such returns because of the lack of diplomatic relations between the State of Israel and the Republic of Sudan, as well as the lack of communication with the authorities in that country” in its response to an appeal filed by a Sudanese asylum seeker over the decision not to include him in the group of asylum seekers from that country that were given a status similar to that of refugees.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Israel stressed to Haaretz on Monday that even if there’s a change in the relations between the countries, it would not allow for forced deportations to Sudan, but only for voluntary return. Even so, the prime minister’s comments have shaken up the entire community, according to Faisal, who submitted his request to receive refugee status in 2013 and has yet to get a response.

“I have a lot of family in Darfur [a part of Sudan], and people are being killed and wounded,” Faisal said. “The situation there changes all the time; you can’t say it’s not dangerous there, there’s still murder every day. My grandfather and five uncles were killed; my mother told me when I was 16 to flee so at least I’d be saved. Israelis don’t listen to our stories, but we were fleeing from real danger.”

Just last week, the UNHCR said that clashes in Darfur had forced more than 11,000 people to flee to neighboring Chad since last month, 4,000 of them in the previous week alone. An estimated 46,000 people have been displaced within the country.