By Abigail R. Fradkin
Abigail R. Fradkin ’09 attends Harvard College and is a Classics and Government concentrator in Lowell House.
On the night of the first of August 2007, Egyptian soldiers at the Egypt-Israel border killed four Sudanese refugees attempting to flee to refuge in Israel. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers witnessed the event, which was also captured on surveillance tapes. According to an IDF soldier’s account on Israel’s Channel 10 News, Israeli soldiers discovered the Sudanese refugees just as Egyptian troops arrived. The Egyptians immediately fired upon the refugees, killing two and wounding another. The fourth refugee ran toward the Israeli border, but an Egyptian soldier caught hold of him. After an IDF soldier intervened, a ‘tug of war’  over the man ensued. Fearing that the Egyptians would shoot both him and the refugee, the IDF solider eventually loosened his grip. Several meters from the border fence, Egyptian guards beat the third and fourth refugees to death with stones and clubs. The Jerusalem Post quoted one soldier who witnessed the event: “What happened there yesterday was a lynch [sic]. These are not men, they’re animals. They killed him without even using firearms. We just heard screams of pain and the sounds of beating. Then the screams stopped.” 
This well-publicized atrocity, combined with the recent exponential increase in the number of Sudanese crossing the border into Israel, has made the issue of the beleaguered refugees from the both the Darfur region of western Sudan and southern Sudan particularly pressing. During the whole of 2006, only several refugees entered Israel, but by the summer of 2007, that number had increased to 50 or 60 each day.  Advocacy groups estimate that there are approximately 2,400 African asylum-seekers in Israel, including about 1,700 Sudanese, 300 to 500 of whom come from Darfur.  Twelve hundred of those Sudanese arrived in Israel in the past half-year after having successfully crossed the Egyptian border.  Many of the other asylum-seekers come from Eritrea, Ghana, and Kenya.
Israel is currently planning to set a quota for the number of refugees it can absorb. Referring to the 300 Vietnamese boatpeople whom Israel welcomed in 1977, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit pledged that Israel will absorb the African asylum-seekers “with the same compassion” with which it “absorbed the Vietnamese refugees.”  The government is now working with the UN to determine which asylum-seekers qualify for refugee status. UN representatives are in the process of interviewing the Sudanese refugees and will publish their recommendations upon completing their research. Considering the ongoing influx of refugees, this may take a long time.
The representative for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Israel, Michael Bavli, asserts that ultimately “the decision on the quota will not be dictated by numbers, but on a personal, case-by-case basis.”  It seems most likely that the Darfurian refugees will be given priority because they are unable to safely return to their homes and are considered to have suffered the most; the future of the southern Sudanese refugees will likely remain less secure. On September 4, Sheetrit announced that Israel intended to grant citizenship to several hundred refugees from Darfur. The decision was widely praised in Israel, including by 63 Members of the Knesset (the 120-member Israeli parliament) who crossed party lines to sign a petition demanding that the Darfurians not be deported. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) affirmed that it has long believed that “it is the moral duty of the Jewish nation to do all it can to alleviate the human suffering caused by genocide wherever it arises.” 
This focus on Darfur reflects the fact that the situation in Darfur is even more dire than conditions in southern Sudan. In Darfur, ongoing and systematic terrorization, rape, mutilation, and murder have escalated into full-scale genocide. The current conflict began in February 2003 when a new opposition group, the Sudanese Liberation Army, embarked on an armed campaign against the government to protest the lack of government protection for, and development in, the marginalized region. The government, with its capital in Khartoum, responded by unleashing the Janjaweed (“guns on horseback”), or Arab militias, who proceeded to attack villages in Darfur, killing, raping and abducting villagers and destroying property and resources. Government troops have also been involved in the Janjaweed attacks, both on the ground and through bombing coordinated with subsequent ground assaults. 
In his February 2006 review of Julie Flint and Alex de Waal’s Darfur: A Short History of a Long War and Gérard Prunier’s Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide, Nicholas Kristof describes the bases of the conflict: “While shorthand descriptions are simplistic, they’re also essentially right. In Darfur, the cleavages between the Janjaweed and their victims tend to be threefold. First, the Janjaweed and Sudanese government leaders are Arab and their victims in Darfur are members of several non-Arab African tribes, particularly the Zaghawa, Fur, and Masalit. Second, the killers are frequently lighter-skinned, and they routinely use racial epithets about the ‘blacks’ they are killing and raping. Third, the Janjaweed are often nomadic herdsman, and the tribes they attack are usually settled farmers, so the conflict also reflects the age-old tensions between herders and farmers.”  According to UN estimates, the fighting that began in Darfur in 2003 has killed between 200,000 and 400,000 people and displaced about 2.5 million. 
However, despite the greater urgency of the situation in Darfur, some Israeli and international organizations worry about the distinction made between refugees from Darfur and those from elsewhere in Sudan, primarily the south, whom both the UN and the Israeli government have tended to place in the economic refugee category. Eitan Schwartz, speaking on behalf of the Coalition for the Advancement of Refugees from Darfur (CARD), urged the government “to go the extra mile and to offer citizenship to all the Sudanese refugees in Israel.”  During the Second Sudanese Civil War, which began in 1983 and ended in January 2005 with the treaty between the Islamic government in the north and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement in the largely Christian south, 1.9 million southern Sudanese civilians were killed and more than four million were internally displaced.  Although the UN is effectively focused on repatriating people in the south, it has not found long-term solutions to the continuing problems in the region. The southern Sudanese still face serious difficulties, including the continued presence of government troops and associated militias in defiance of the accord, child slavery, terrorization of the population, and religious persecution, as well as extreme poverty. Alex de Waal, in a talk at Harvard University on his most recent book, War in Darfur and the Search for Peace, repeatedly stressed the importance of “Sudan as a whole,” and of making any peace talks in Darfur a part of the larger goal of implementing the procedures set forth by the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement. 
The 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, as amended by its 1967 protocol, defines a refugee as a person who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”  Refugees from the nightmarish conditions of fear and persecution in southern Sudan fit this definition, making a compassionate international response to the plight of all Sudanese asylum-seekers, not just those from Darfur, the only humane one.
The refugees face yet another complication: because the Sudanese government has consistently refused any diplomatic relations with Israel, it automatically charges with high treason any Sudanese national who sets foot in Israel, including refugees seeking asylum there.  According to a report by Israel Radio, Sudanese Interior Minister Bashir Taha accused Israel of encouraging Sudanese emigration to Israel in an effort to damage Khartoum’s international image. He also declared that Sudan would prosecute any refugees who returned.  It is therefore imperative that both UN interviewers in Israel and the Israeli government give serious consideration to asylum requests by all Sudanese, regardless of their regional origin.
Moreover, the Egyptian government, in its treatment of these refugees, makes no distinction between those from Darfur and those from southern Sudan. Indeed, by the time they reach the Israeli border, the Sudanese refugees have not only encountered unimaginable horror in Sudan, but brutal mistreatment in Egypt as well. A candid article in the Egyptian Al-Ahram Weekly asserts, “Excessively harsh socio-economic conditions and racist attitudes in Egypt seem to be the main reason why Sudanese refugees want to relocate to Israel. Of the Sudanese refugees now resident in Israel 71 per cent report verbal and physical abuse as the main reason for their fleeing Egypt.”  The article also mentions the December 2005 Mustafa Mahmoud mosque incident in which Egyptian police fired on a crowd of Sudanese refugee protestors, killing at least 27.  Since that incident, the number of Sudanese refugees fleeing to Israel has risen considerably.
After conducting several interviews with refugees in their temporary home on the grounds of Israel’s Ketziot Prison, where food, clothing, housing, medical care, other amenities and various courses have been provided, Sheera Claire Frenkel reports that “for many of the refugees, it is still difficult to talk about their lives in Egypt. Many of the men point to scars and burn marks as physical evidence of the abuse they say they endured at the hands of Egyptian gangs. The women point to new offspring, lighter skinned than the rest of their brood.” Atoi Magit, a 27-year-old mother of four, pregnant with her fifth child, declared that “her worst fear” was that Israel would return her family to Egypt. “Anywhere but there,” she said. 
To cross the Sinai Desert between Egypt and Israel, refugees pay Bedouin smugglers hundreds of dollars and risk being caught by the Egyptian border patrol. If they make it to Israel safely, they are sheltered in the temporary caravan park at Ketziot, where a more permanent camp is being constructed, or they are taken in by Israeli families or kibbutzim. Due to the initial lack of sufficient official aid or clear government policy on the issue, the task of refugee care has largely fallen to Israeli organizations and individual volunteers. Israeli families and businesses have donated food and clothing, doctors have volunteered their medical services, students have set up educational programs for children, and volunteers have provided general care for traumatized refugees.
Nevertheless, despite these efforts on behalf of the refugees, the Israeli government has yet to settle upon a clear and comprehensive official policy. On August 18 Israel deported 48 Africans—many reportedly from Darfur—back across the Egyptian border.  At the same time, David Baker, a government spokesman, announced that Israel would absorb the approximately 500 Darfurian refugees already in Israel. Two weeks later, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert granted citizenship to several hundred refugees. 
However, Baker also declared that any further crossing of the border would be considered illegal and that all migrants would be sent back to Egypt under the terms of an agreement with Egyptian authorities.  The deportation of refugees is officially contingent upon Egypt’s assurances that it will treat refugees well, but Egypt itself has denied making such a guarantee. On August 12, the Jerusalem Post quoted the Egyptian Foreign Ministry as saying, “Egypt has informed Israel—officially—that it is not obligated to receive any non-Egyptian citizen who illegally crosses the border into Israel.”  This statement appears to contradict Olmert’s July 1 announcement that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak agreed to take back the refugees and guarantee their safety, a pledge Mubarak has never publicly acknowledged. Indeed, the killing of the four refugees on August 1, the discovery of the bound and bloodied body of a 30-year-old refugee in the northern Sinai and continued shootings by Egyptian forces belie the value of that supposed guarantee. Moreover, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry condoned the August 1 killings and responded to news of the incidents with the following statement: “If those crossing refuse to heed the orders of authorities to stop, then authorities are forced to deal with them in such a manner to ensure respect for the law.” 
It is almost certain that refugees who are forced to return to Egypt will be met with harsh, even brutal, treatment. With this likelihood in mind, the spokesman for the Israeli Hotline for Migrant Workers, Romm Lewkowicz, charged Israel with violating the provision of the Geneva Conventions concerning a government’s obligation toward refugees from an enemy state. Moreover, Lewkowicz pointed out that it was Israel that promoted the provision after the Second World War, mindful of the shelter German Jewish refugees had received in Britain.  Echoes of the historical experience of many Israelis make the plight of the Sudanese refugees that much more poignant for them. As Liat Collins declared in the Jerusalem Post, “Look at them and see us…Even many of those opposed to granting them permanent asylum in Israel can easily imagine them as Jewish refugees struggling to cross borders or board boats to take them away from the Nazi hell.” 
Compassion alone is not an adequate solution to the problem, however. While countless acts of generosity have aided and comforted the refugees in their temporary home and occasioned sweet stories like that of the Sudanese girl Miyati thrilled with her all-pink clothes,  much more has to be done to meet the needs of these most needy of people. Though Israel has an unusually comprehensive system for immigrant absorption, the persistent social problems experienced by the approximately 85,000 Ethiopian Jewish immigrants are perhaps a good indication of the difficulty that the Sudanese are likely to face. Two decades after the first large influx of Ethiopian Jews, 62% of Ethiopian families have no income at all, 72% of children live below the poverty line and more than 90% of employed Ethiopians have low-paying, manual jobs.  These obstacles are also reflected in the population’s poor educational performance, with 32% of Ethiopian students, as opposed to 50% of the general population, eligible for higher education matriculation exams. 
Based on Israel’s difficulties in integrating its Ethiopian immigrants, it is clear that absorption of the Sudanese, with their experience of terror and their unfamiliarity with the developed world, will be no easy task. Various possible plans have been suggested, including a (gradual) replacement of some of Israel’s 100,000 legal foreign workers and 100,000 illegal workers with refugees.  Most Sudanese were involved in farming at home and there are now 29,000 legal foreign workers in agriculture. The kibbutzim have already taken in many refugees, who will be allowed to stay to live and work. An additional pilot program to employ Sudanese refugees in Eilat hotels has proven successful.
While the great powers of the world hem and haw over what to do about the genocide in Darfur, as well as the possibility of intensified conflict in southern Sudan, Israel has been forced to look into the eyes of Sudan’s suffering people and grapple seriously with the practical and moral implications of these conflicts. Two recent developments have so far done little to reduce the suffering or improve the prospects for a cessation of the ongoing genocide in Darfur. First, on July 31, 2007, over four years after the beginning of the current fighting in Darfur, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to deploy a joint African Union and UN peacekeeping force of up to 26,000 troops in an attempt to bring an end to the violence in the region. Though initially slated to begin in October, deployment of this greatly expanded force was delayed by disagreement over its composition. On January 1, after months of bureaucratic wrangling and particular intransigence on the part of the Sudanese government, formal authority was finally transferred from the current African Union force to the joint mission. However, what was to have been the largest peacekeeping effort in the world now consists of only 9,000 troops, a number which experts worry can do little to seriously affect change.  Second, the opening on October 27 in Libya of the latest round of peace talks was marred by a boycott by major rebel figures and disputes among the rebel groups present.  Furthermore, while Sudan called for an immediate cease-fire, it fired seven missiles at a target in Darfur that very day  and, while delegates are now involved in private talks,  no progress has been made. In the meantime, and as the would-be forces attempt to establish peace, the people of Darfur and southern Sudan will continue to face unspeakable daily horror and to seek refuge wherever possible.
In the Western World, only the United States, with 28,123 accepted refugees, Australia, with 21,241, and Canada, with 6,258, have given asylum to large numbers of Sudanese. The other major countries offering asylum are, in descending order, Chad, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Alex de Waal described this international response as “mean, measly, unethical and even illegal.”  Beyond a doubt, the world has yet to fulfill its moral and legal obligation to shelter the beleaguered refugees of Sudan. Other countries must not only exert concerted pressure on Egypt to treat these refugees well, but must finally, themselves, pursue a serious campaign of refugee assistance and give practical consideration to a resolution of the conflict. This should not be Israel’s problem alone.
 “Egyptians killed 4 Sudanese on border,” Jerusalem Post, 2 August 2007.
 Sheera Claire Frenkel, “Israel, UN to stem tide of Sudanese refugees. Officials seek countries to absorb Africans,” Jerusalem Post, 9 August 2007.
 Refugee estimates vary.
 Ilene R. Prusher, “Israel to grant Darfur refugees citizenship,” The Christian Science Monitor, 6 September 2007.
 Mazel Mualem, “Israel to grant citizenship to hundreds of Darfur refugees,” Haaretz, 5 September 2007.
 Amnesty International: Appeals for Action, “Sudan Crisis – Background,” Amnesty International, 16 September 2007, <http://web.amnesty.org/pages/sdn-background-eng>
 Nicholas Kristof, “Genocide in Slow Motion,” The New York Review of Books, 9 February 2006.
 Mazal Mualem, “Israel to grant citizenship to hundreds of Darfur refugees,” Haaretz, 5 September 2007.
 UNHCR: The UN Refugee Agency, “South Sudan Operation,” UNHCR, http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/southsudan?page=intro (accessed 19 September 2007).
 Alex de Waal, Book forum on War in Darfur and the Search for Peace, Harvard University, Cambridge, 27 September 2007.
 OHCHR: Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights , “Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees,” adopted 28 July 1951, United Nations OHCHR, http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/o_c_ref.htm.
 Gamal Nkrumah, “Here today, gone tomorrow,” Al-Ahram Weekly, 16 September 2007.
 Sheera Claire Frenkel, Ilana Diamond, and Staff, “Sudan: Israel encouraging emigration,” Jerusalem Post, 9 July 2007.
 Gmal Nkrumah, “Here today, gone tomorrow,” Al-Ahram Weekly, 2-8 August 2007
 Amnesty International Library, “Egypt: Amnesty International calls for inquiry into killings and opposes threatened collective expulsions of Sudanese protesters,” Amnesty International, 6 January 2006, <http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGMDE120022006?open&of=ENG-2AF>.
 Sheera Claire Frenkel, “‘We knew it would be safe here’”, Jerusalem Post, Pg. 1, 31 July 2007.
 Isabel Kershner, “Israel Returns Illegal Migrants to Egypt,” The New York Times, 20 August 2007.
 Sheera Claire Frenkel, “Cairo warns it won’t take back refugees who sneak into Israel,” Jerusalem Post, 12 August 2007.
 Liat Collins, “The Sudanese Dilemma,” Jerusalem Post, 17 July 2007.
 Sheera Claire Frenkel, “A Sudanese refugee with her child at her temporary home at Ketziot Prison,” Jerusalem Post, 31 July 2007.
 Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews (IAEJ), “IAEJ Employment Initiative,” http://www.iaej.org.il/pages/our_projects.htm (accessed 6 October 2007).
 Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews (IAEJ), “IAEJ Education Initiative,” http://www.iaej.org.il/pages/our_projects.htm (accessed 6 October 2007).
 Evelyn Gordon, “Why a ‘genuine refugees only’ policy makes sense,” Jerusalem Post, 23 August 2007.
 Sheryl Gay Stolberg, “Bush Signs Bill Allowing Sudan Divestment,” The New York Times, 1 January 2008.
 Jeffrey Gettleman, “Rebels Split at Talks on Darfur, The New York Times, 27 October 2007.
 Warren Hoge, “U.N. Objects to Expulsion of Aid Official from Darfur,” The New York Times, 8 November 2007.
 UNHCR Statistics, “2006 Global Trends: Refugees, Asylum-seekers, Returnees, Internally Displaced and Stateless Persons,” UNHCR: The UN Refugee Agency, http://www.unhcr.org/statistics.html (accessed 7 October 2007).
 De Waal.