Over the past two months the Bedouin town of Rahat has become a city of refuge for Sudanese migrants, who are trying to avoid being located by Interior Ministry inspectors and deported to South Sudan.

“Immigration police doesn’t come here; this is paradise for them,” said a Rahat resident of the new arrivals.

Whoever comes to Rahat cannot help but notice the number of Sudanese who have decided to settle there. They work in hothouses, supermarkets and even on building sites.

“We have some 500 migrants, of whom 400 arrived recently, ever since the interior minister decided to send them back,” said Rahat Mayor Fayez Abu Sahiban. “Rahat is becoming a great place for them to live.”

Unlike elsewhere in the country, there has been almost no friction between the Bedouin residents and the Sudanese, with the Muslim newcomers assimilating well into the veteran population.

“There have already been marriages between migrants and Rahat women,” said Abu Sahiban. “City residents like them a lot, they have similar customs to ours, they don’t do anything bad; they uphold tradition and respect the residents.”

Ahmed Mohammed, a work migrant from South Sudan, came to Rahat two months ago.
“Here we work without anyone bothering us, we have peace of mind and people are nice to us,” he said.

Local authority officials estimate that a stream of thousands of migrants into Rahat is likely to begin shortly, as those already there have been urging friends to join them.

“Immigration police doesn't comes here; with regard to this issue Rahat doesn’t interest anyone,” said a member of the local council. “They can move around the city freely, work in the grocery, eat in the restaurants and walk through the city markets. Here it’s paradise for them.”

City officials, however, are not as sanguine about this development as it may seem at first. Data supplied by the local council shows that Rahat has a 35% unemployment rate, and in addition to Sudanese migrants there are some 1,500 Palestinians who live in the town illegally. Both groups, say Abu Sahiban, are taking jobs from locals.

“Our young people stay home because both the illegal Palestinians and the migrants are taking jobs that young people from Rahat would normally do,” he said. “While it’s true we have no [friction] now, we’re concerned about the future.”

Though most of the migrants seem to have regular jobs in Rahat, a few of them were seen standing round the central square, waiting for offers of work. The reason local grocers and contractors are pleased with their work and keep them on, one of the grocers said, is “they never make trouble, they’re fine, they do their work and go home.

“I also have Sudanese workers, they are disciplined, they don’t argue, and we get along well,” the grocer said. “Here they have nothing to fear, they live in certain homes in the city that everybody knows, but everyone gets along.

“There has never been a fight between us, because we speak the same language and it’s easier for us to understand what they need and what their problems are. The communication between us is the most important thing in understanding them and what they need,” he said.