Israel is reportedly willing to grant refugee status to hundreds of Sudanese migrants over the age of 40 who fled genocide in the Nuba region, in the first possible recognition of an ethnic cleansing similar to that in the country’s Darfur area.
While there has been much discourse in Israel about survivors of the Darfur ethnic cleansing of the region’s non-Arab residents, which began in 2003 and resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, Israelis have heard little about the fate of the Nuba people in the country’s south.
In its response over the weekend to a petition to the High Court of Justice, the state said that any sweeping decision by the judges relating to the status of the Darfurians will also apply to asylum seekers from the Nuba mountains, the Haaretz daily reported Monday.
The petition demands that the state make a decision on the status of 400 Nuba migrants in Israel who haven’t had their asylum requests approved or denied for years. Attorneys Carmel Pomerantz and Michal Pomerantz, who filed the petition, claim these migrants are being discriminated against when compared to the handling of petitions from Darfurians.
A second petition to Israel’s top appeals court, by the same lawyers, demands that the state make a decision on the larger group of some 1,100 migrants from Darfur.
The two lawyers were quoted as praising the state’s recognition of the Nuba genocide, while criticizing its refusal to clearly state that the migrants from the area are refugees.
“The state’s announcement is expected to grant immediate protection to Nuba people over the age of 40,” they said. “We hope the court won’t let the state drag its feet regarding the rest of the community members.”
According to the Population Authority, since the early 2000s, 64,850 people crossed the border from Egypt into Israel without Israel’s permission.
There are approximately 38,000 African asylum seekers currently in Israel, according to the Interior Ministry. About 72 percent of the migrants are Eritrean and 20% are Sudanese.
Eritrean asylum seekers fled a harsh dictator and compulsory military service that can last for 40 years. Sudanese asylum seekers fled genocide as well as fighting between Sudan and South Sudan.
However, Israeli officials contend many of the asylum seekers are economic migrants looking for work opportunities and a higher standard of living.
The majority of African asylum seekers arrived in Israel between 2006 and 2012. In 2010, the height of the wave of asylum seekers crossing from the Sinai to Israel, 1,300 people illegally crossed the border each month.
In 2014, Israel completed construction of a 242-kilometer (150-mile) electronic fence along the border with Sinai. Illegal entry through Sinai dropped to just 11 cases in 2016, and 0 in 2017.
Earlier this month, the state said it would temporarily freeze the planned deportation of thousands of migrants while it works to address legal questions surrounding the campaign.
The announcement came in response to a High Court of Justice petition against the government’s plan to deport the migrants to third-party countries in Africa, widely reported to be Uganda and Rwanda, which has come under fire in Israel and abroad.
In recent months, groups of Israeli pilots, doctors, writers, former ambassadors, and Holocaust survivors have appealed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to halt the deportation plan, calling it unethical and warning it could cause grave damage to Israel’s image.
Melanie Lidman contributed to this report.