Darfur refugees in Israel form panel to represent their interests
The excitement was great last Wednesday as the 11 elected members of the committee of Sudanese refugees in Israel ascended the stage in Tel Aviv University's Webb Hall. Minutes earlier, some 150 refugees picked their representatives in a democratic election. The representatives introduced themselves in turn, stating where they had lived in Sudan and where they now resided in Israel. A sense of hope gripped the crowd when its representatives lined up at the front of the stage and tried to infuse optimism in the audience, which shares their harsh fate.
The refugees began infiltrating Israel through Egypt about two years ago, having fled the genocide in Darfur, where Arab militias have been butchering the black people living there.
The refugees are being helped by Israeli aid groups like HaMoked Center for the Defense of the Individual, the Refugee Rights Clinic at Tel Aviv University and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. In October 2006, the Committee for Advancement of Refugees from Darfur was established as an umbrella organization that works on behalf of some 1,300 Sudanese refugees in Israel.
But last week's election was the first time the refugees have taken the initiative themselves. The main tasks facing the committee are setting up a learning center for refugees to study Hebrew, English and computers, and raising awareness regarding the plight of those left in Darfur.
The refugees also plan to form a non-profit group to work on resolving problems they encounter in Israel.
The meeting Wednesday opened with a discussion of the refugees' absorption in Israel and their difficult journey here. Photographs documenting their escape hung on the hall's walls.
The audience was made up largely of young people. Speakers emphasized the importance of trying to nurture cooperation with the Israeli public.
"We must think about how the refugee can help another refugee and how we can deepen the connection between the people who come from Darfur and the Israeli public and aid organizations," one 18-year-old leader said.
He added that the refugee issue is a social and political matter with which Israel can and should deal. He mentioned Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's announcement several weeks ago that an agreement had been reached with Egypt to return infiltrators. "We hear talk about decisions in Israel to send people back to Egypt, but we think that Israel cannot make such decisions. This is a country with love for people who come from outside," he said.
The young Darfurian suggested that a bond of suffering could unite his people and the Jews, concluding: "We are asking the Jewish people to take us in. We, survivors of the genocide in Darfur, now live in the land of Zion."