Israel to deport South Sudanese refugees

Sari Ganulin, AAA Volunteer

Israel’s government recently decided to end group protection for South Sudanese refugees residing in Israel. The Population, Immigration and Border Authority released a statement saying, “now that South Sudan has become an independent state, it is time for you to return to your homeland. While this is not a simple move, the State of Israel is committed to helping those who wish to return voluntarily in the near future.”

After March 31, 2012, any South Sudanese refugee caught without a valid visa will be subject to deportation. Until that date, the Israeli government is offering the option of voluntary deportation, including a one-time stipend of $1,300 for each individual to use for expenses once returned to South Sudan.The new nation declared its independence on July 9, 2011; it is estimated that anywhere from 500-2000 South Sudanese refugees are currently in Israel, including as many as 500 children.

Returning to South Sudan at this moment, however, may be ill-advised; even though there is an official state to which the refugees can return, it is still very young, very unstable, and facing many human rights challenges. Among others, 35.7% of the population of South Sudan is food insecure, requiring humanitarian assistance, an estimated 75% of the population is thought to have no access to health services, and 50% of the population has no access to potable drinking water.

Sudanese president Omer Hassan al-Bashir recently said about the relationship between North and South Sudan, "The climate now is closer to a climate of war than one of peace." At least six armed militia groups regularly attack all over South Sudan, often directing their attacks at international aid organizations acting in the state. Recent attacks have left 3,000 dead and have caused the displacement of perhaps 140,000 people. The government in Khartoum has threatened to expel South Sudanese living in Sudan as of the beginning of April, which could mean as many as half a million people flooding into South Sudan, overwhelming the humanitarian aid services already spread thin. If the refugees currently in Israel are expelled at the same time, it would be extremely difficult for them to survive in the new country.

Israeli NGOs are trying to convince the government to extend the period of group protection for South Sudanese refugees because of the unstable situation in South Sudan. However, the NGOs will also help those who want to voluntarily return to South Sudan.

For South Sudanese refugees who wish to enter the Refugee Status Determination (RSD) process and file claims individually, a number of NGOs can help: the ARDC can help draft letter to the Ministry of the Interior for those with specific humanitarian issues (mixed Sudanese/South Sudanese couples, those belonging to persecuted ethnic or religious minorities, etc.); the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) can help those South Sudanese who are in relationships with Israelis to attain resident status in Israel; Physicians for Human Rights will help those with serious medical issues apply for a medical visa.