Opinion |

Israel's Asylum Seeker Deal With the UN Was Never a Victory. Netanyahu Proved It

The status of asylum seekers in Israel should not be a matter of political debate where one side emerges victorious. This is a moral issue that all should agree on

Mutasim Ali
Mutasim Ali
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Mutasim Ali speaks at a protest of support for asylum seekers at the Holot detention facility, February 2014.
Mutasim Ali speaks at a protest of support for asylum seekers at the Holot detention facility, February 2014. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Mutasim Ali
Mutasim Ali

>> BREAKING (Apr 3, 12:42 PM) Netanyahu Nixes Deal With UN on African Asylum Seekers Following Right-wing Pushback

Since I arrived in Israel from Darfur in 2009, I have celebrated Passover with my Jewish friends every year. We celebrate freedom and justice and commit to fight for the freedom of all those in the darkness of tyranny, the disadvantaged and the minorities. I have never doubted that we shall overcome.

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During the past nine years, my friends and I have endured difficult, bumpy times. Our freedoms were stripped away; we were labeled infiltrators in an effort to dehumanize us and build a gap between us and Israeli society. This on top of the atrocities and persecution we have gone through in our countries of origin.

We began protesting for our rights in late 2013, when myself and many other asylum seekers were sent to the Holot detention facility for more than a year. It seemed as if the justification was to make our lives miserable and break our spirits. We continued fighting from and within the detention facility. Then were sent to Saharonim prison because we violated the public order in Holot, despite the fact that we were kept from the public. Our demands were to set us free and to assess our individual claims.

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I was finally granted refugee status in 2016. It could not have happened without the many people representing the brighter side of Israeli society, among them NGOs such as Hotline for Refugees and Migrants and my lawyer and dear friend Asaf Weizen. I couldn’t explain my feelings: I was happy, crying, worried all at the same time. I didn’t celebrate my status even though it is always recommended to celebrate small successes. I didn’t celebrate because I was waiting to celebrate with the rest of my community – I was expecting to hear good news, just like today's about Israel's deal with the United Nations prior to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walking the deal back.

With all the difficulties faced over the years, I have never doubted the possibility of change; I fight because I know change is possible. Change is possible because there are great people fighting with us – not because we are poor refugees and need shelter, but for better society we all aspire to live in. I was hopeful about today’s news because I meet people that instill me with me faith and strength every day. It’s a privilege to be around people like those I met in Israel, America, England and elsewhere who are fighting day and night to preserve and protect the rights of asylum seekers and also enhance the values of freedom, justice and equality as envisaged by the prophets of Israel.

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I didn’t really know the content of the deal between Israel and the UNHCR. I didn’t know which countries asylum seekers will be settled finally and feel the safety they sought for so many years. I do know though that asylum seekers have gone through so much and they deserve protection.

On one hand, I was happy because my comrades could now feel safe because the deportation was canceled and many others will likely be resettled, whether in Israel or elsewhere. On the other hand, I kept fighting for the last nine years believing that it is right for Israel to take in asylum seekers and that we can and will be an asset not a burden. Israel has the capacity to take all the African asylum seekers if it so chooses.

I have spoken to everyone from across the political aisle to convey our message. I have said time and again that our problem should not be a matter of a political debate between left and right, but a moral issue that all should agree on. As person who fled genocide from Darfur, I will be very sensitive to others’ pain and suffering and I will always be there for those less fortunate – that’s what humanity stands for.

I never wanted to call this deal between Israel and UNHCR a victory. My struggle was never about winning over another, but because it was the right thing to do. But if you wanted to call it a victory, then it was a victory for all in this struggle. It was a victory for Israeli society because we share the same interests; we want the government to invest, rehabilitate and improve our living condition. It was a win for the Israeli government because it is less expensive and one less headache. It was a win for the State of Israel that gets to protect its values. And certainly, a win for asylum seekers. We would no longer live in fear and could focus on our real problems that made us refugees. But as Netanyahu proved, this would not be a victory for anyone until the deal would be finalized.

I will continue very careful about my happiness until I ensure the safety of my friends. We will continue the good fight for a better society and a better world for all of us. This is far from over. We shall overcome!

The writer, among the leaders of the Sudanese asylum seekers community in Israel and the first to be granted refugee status in Israel, is a law student at Ramat Gan's College of Law and Business.

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