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Israel, Sudan discuss draft proposal for repatriating Sudanese refugees – report

Jerusalem looking at offering those willing to return home guarantees of safety, vocational training and a generous grant, according to Channel 12

File: Sudanese and Eritrean refugees in South Tel Aviv in 2011 (Nicky Kelvin/Flash90)
File: Sudanese and Eritrean refugees in South Tel Aviv in 2011 (Nicky Kelvin/Flash90)

As part of the normalization deal between them, Israel and Sudan are expected to discuss the fate of some 6,000 Sudanese asylum seekers currently in Israel, with Jerusalem drawing up proposals for refugees’ willing return to their home country, Channel 12 news reported Monday.

A draft government proposal would seek to offer carrots to Sudanese willing to leave, including a grant of several thousand dollars; professional training in so-called “respectable” occupations; and guarantees by the Sudanese government and the United Nations for their safety.

The report noted that according to international law, Israel can not force an asylum seeker to return to his or her country of origin against their will.

It said the proposal has been discussed between Israeli and Sudanese officials, though it is still a preliminary plan. If agreed upon, it will likely be piloted on a small number of refugees before being made more widely available.

Asylum seekers from Sudan make up about 20 percent of the 33,000 African migrants currently in Israel.

The Times of Israel contacted the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to find out what the status is of Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel and whether this normalization agreement could in fact lead to their repatriation to Sudan.

A spokesperson said most of the refugees come from conflict-affected areas: Darfur, Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains.

UNHCR said that it “welcomes the peace agreement between Israel and Sudan. However, it is very early days to be talking about the return of Sudanese refugees, especially to very fragile conflict-affected areas.”

Alteyb Hhmad. a Sudanese asylum seeker, in Tel Aviv on October 25, 2020 (Simona Weinglass/Times of Israel)

The Israeli organization Hotline for Refugees and Migrants said Sunday that “As of May 2018, asylum applications have been submitted by 5,119 Sudanese citizens, all of which are still pending.”

Several refugees told the Times of Israel on Sunday that they welcomed peace but were suspicious of the deal, as it was with military commanders who previously served under dictator Omar al-Bashir, who was ousted from power last year.

Netanyahu “is making peace with Abdul al-Fattah al-Burhan,” said Alteyb Hhmad, naming the country’s transitional head of state.

“He was one of Al-Bashir’s military commanders and carried out genocide. Why is Netanyahu making peace with that guy? Something smells fishy,” he said.

Many Darfurians accuse al-Burhan of being “the architect of the genocide” in Darfur. He is reportedly “well known in Darfur for his threats to exterminate the Fur people.” Both al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan “Hemeti” Dagolo, Sudan’s top two military leaders, have reportedly “earned reputations for their roles in the brutal Darfur conflict.”

Hhmad said he doesn’t think a peace agreement with Sudan’s current military leaders should be considered legitimate.

“I heard and watched the news about the peace agreement. But Sudan still doesn’t have a new government. Al-Bashir’s generals are in charge. That’s why this isn’t a normal peace,” he said. “It’s not going to help us as Sudanese.”

Only a future democratic Sudanese government can forge lasting peace, he said.

Sudanese Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan speaks during a military-backed rally in Omdurman district, west of Khartoum, Sudan, June 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, file)

“We want peace with the whole world. But when? In a year and a half there will be elections and we will hopefully get a new government — not a government of murderers. When our country has democracy, then we can make peace,” he said.

Another refugee, Hussein Ahmad, argued that Netanyahu is strengthening murderous dictators through this peace deal.

“Nothing has changed in Sudan. Al-Bashir is going to jail but the generals are continuing to murder people in places like Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains. Netanyahu is helping the generals, he is helping this government,” he said.

According to media reports, even post-revolution, civilians in Darfur and nearby areas are still suffering attacks from militias associated with the government.

Simona Weinglass contributed to this report.

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