Sudanese in Israel fear being returned after normalisation
Technically at war with Israel for decades, Sudan on Friday became the third Arab country this year to announce it is normalising ties with the Jewish state, following the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in August. But since the announcement, members of the Sudanese community in Israel have been "very afraid" of being sent back, said 26-year-old Barik Saleh, a Sudanese asylum seeker who lives in a suburb of Tel Aviv.
Israel counts a Sudanese population of around 6,000, mostly asylum seekers. Thousands of others left or were forced to return after Sudan split in 2011 when South Sudan won its independence – only for the fledgling country to plunge into civil war.
Some of the Sudanese – often labelled as "infiltrators" for crossing illegally into Israeli territory before being granted permission to stay – were minors when they arrived.
They are not always allowed to work and they cannot gain Israeli citizenship.
Saleh, who grew up in West Darfur, was just nine when his family fled war to neighbouring Chad. "My parents are in a refugee camp," said the young man, who arrived after journeying through Libya and Egypt and has lived in Israel for 13 years.
"I will be the first one for normalisation," he said. "But if I will be deported from here, then I will be in 100 percent danger."
Former president Omar al-Bashir oversaw Sudan's civil war in the Darfur region from 2003. Some 300,000 people died in the conflict and 2.5 million were forced from their homes. Bashir, in detention in Khartoum, is wanted by the International Criminal Court over charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.
"We are here because it is not safe to go back to Sudan yet," said 31-year-old Monim Haroon, who comes from a stronghold region of Darfuri rebel leader Abdelwahid Nour's Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) faction. "The reason why we are here in Israel is not because of the lack of a diplomatic relationship between Sudan and Israel, but because of the genocide and ethnic cleansing that we went through."
Sudan's transitional government, in place after the fall of Bashir in 2019, signed a landmark peace deal with an alliance of rebel groups earlier this month. But Nour's rebel faction was not one of them.
Some of those in power in Sudan today were also in control under Bashir. They include Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, vice president of Sudan's ruling transitional sovereign council. He heads the feared Rapid Support Forces, long accused by human rights groups of committing widespread abuses in Sudan's Darfur provinces.
"For me it is very dangerous," said Haroon, who was previously head of Nour's office in Israel. "Unless Abdelwahid signs a peace agreement, I cannot go back." (AFP)