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March 16, 2012 1:03 pm

Exclusive: Southern Sudanese Forced to Leave Israel by Month’s End, Activist Says

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A Southern Sudanese man holds the flags of South Sudan and Israel during independence celebration. Photo: Namibia Sun.

Israel’s Ministry of the Interior has notified the employers of Southern Sudanese refugees who reside in Israel that they can no longer be employed by month’s end, according to a leading advocate for the rights of South Sudanese Christians.

Simon Deng, a Southern Sudanese human rights activist and escaped slave who helped to broker the U.S.-initiated 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that led last year to establishment of an independent South Sudan, says that he received notice from activists in Israel that the Southern Sudanese Christians currently residing there will soon be forced the leave the country.

He cites letters that have “gone out to those who are employing the [Southern Sudanese] that by end of month these people can no longer be employed.”

Deng says that, while he is grateful for the hospitality Israel has extended his countrymen, he is disappointed by this decision on the part of Israel’s government.

“It is not right, simply because we are now putting together the solid relationship, the Republic of South Sudan and the State of Israel, and … [deporting people] is not how you begin building the foundation of a relationship,” he said. “It sends the message, ‘Yes, we are building a relationship, but we don’t want you close to us.'”

In August, Salva Kiir Mayardit, the president of South Sudan, announced his country, which declared independence in January, 2011, plans to establish its embassy in Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv, in recognition of the status of the city as Israel’s capital. South Sudan, the world’s newest country, is the first nation in the world to make such a declaration.

“The president of South Sudan made it official they will build their embassy in Jerusalem, and even the United States has not had the guts to do this,” said Deng.

Deng says that while Israel “is a Jewish state” and Israelis “have the right” to deport non-citizens, he would like to ask that Israel recognize it has true allies in the Southern Sudanese.

“I would say to Israelis and the [world] Jewish community, ‘Don’t reject someone who is a true friend.'”

From the 1950’s until 2005, several million Southern Sudanese Christians and animists-or practitioners of native religions-died at the hands of the country’s Arab Muslim North, led by an extremist government that sheltered Osama bin Laden in the 1990’s.

Before coming to Israel, several thousand Southern Sudanese Christians sought refuge in Egypt, where at least 26 were bludgeoned to death in front of the offices of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Cairo.

In 2006, Deng led the historic “Sudan Freedom Walk,” a 300-mile journey from the United Nations to Capitol Hill to raise awareness about the abuse of civilians in Darfur at the hands of Sudan’s Islamist government. Lasting 22 days, the walk culminated in a rally at the Capitol April 5 – the day the House passed the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act. It drew thousands, including NBA legend and Sudan native Manute Bol. Then-Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Sam Brownback (R-KA) and then-house minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) met Deng at the finish.

Many Southern Sudanese Christian refugees work as housekeepers, dishwashers, and janitors in Israeli hotels.

Asked why, given that an independent state now exists as a homeland for Southern Sudanese in Africa, they should remain in Israel, Deng says the Southern Sudanese still in Israel, who number about 1,000, are productive members of society who can help build bridges between the new nation and Israel. He also points out that many of them have not lived in South Sudan for many years, and some have had children since leaving Sudan-either in Egypt, or in Israel.

At the least, Deng argues that the manner of the community’s planned deportation is too harsh. Instead of demanding that gainfully employed Southern Sudanese and their families in Israel leave immediately, the Israeli government would be showing goodwill to allow them a year to make arrangements.

“Give [the] parents [of these families] time—since they are working, there is no crisis—they are productive people, self-sufficient people,” Deng said. “While they are working they can go back to Sudan, where many have not been for many years, and make arrangements to find a place to live.”

Immediate deportation of the community will be hard on the Israeli employers of Southern Sudanese workers as well, Deng contends.

“Tomorrow or very soon, hotels will suddenly lose a dish-washer, a cleaner,” he said.

Despite its status as the world’s newest country, instability continues in South Sudan. The new nation’s leaders say that the government of Sudan, led in Khartoum by Omar al-Bashir, the dictator who sheltered bin Laden, has been stealing its oil. Violence reminiscent of the decades-long civil war that claimed the lives of millions of Christians has again erupted along the border between the new country, South Sudan, and the old country, Sudan. American actor George Clooney, who has advocated for the new county, traveled recently to South Sudan and “met with residents forced to seek shelter in caves because of aerial attacks by Sudan’s military,” according to the Associated Press.

Deng says the Israeli human rights activists with whom he’s spoken “agree it will not be good for Israel to deport those who are in school, or those who are sick,” in particular. Deng plans to travel to Israel soon to make his case.

“Israelis have the right to throw them out, but I am saying as a friend, can we talk about it?” says Deng. “If we give ourselves room to talk about it the results will benefit all of us.”

At the time of publication Israeli Government representatives have not responded to The Algemeiner’s request for comment.

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  • winona

    he High Commissioner said she was also alarmed by South Sudan’s unwarranted occupation of the oil-producing region of Heglig in South Kordofan, as well as reports of a dramatic build-up in the number of northern militia in Abyei over the past few days.

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  • Justine of Maine

    I just saw the date on this article. Perhaps it is still not too late to help these workers.

  • Justine of Maine

    This breaks my heart. By Sunday, April 8, all Christians and others with ties to the South were required to leave North Sudan. Can you imagine having to leave your country where you have homes, businesses, animals, crops, villages, relationships, possessions, and can only take what you can load on a donkey (if you have one) and flee to South Sudan or Ethiopia? Hundreds of thousands are being affected by this edict, and it is expected that at least 300,000 will die from the resulting starvation and exposure. And now Israel is also demanding that the Southern Sudanese leave their country? For what reason?

    I, for one, will be trying to learn more about this and advocating for the Sudanese people. If you want to help, here is the contact information:

    Telephone: 202.364.5500
    Fax: 202.364.5423

    Israeli Embassy Address:
    3514 International Drive, NW
    Washington, D.C. 20008

  • Marylin Pitz

    So much good can be accomplished when people, and countries, treat each other with respect. How simple, yet how difficult to come by. Of course there are always at least two sides in any disagreement, but in this case, all parties know that Israel need not provide permanent homes for the non-Jewish South Sudanese—but as this article clearly indicates, an approach to settling the manner of exiting the country that respects the dignity of these people is surely called for.