Israel Says It May Shield Hundreds of Nuba Asylum Seekers From Expulsion

Tells High Court it is exploring giving humanitarian status to the people of the Nuba mountains of Sudan, over age 41, who fled genocide

FILE PHOTO: A terrified mother looks out of a cave as she takes shelter from an aircraft flying over the hills surrounding Lwere in Sudan's Nuba mountains on July 1, 2011.
AFP

Hundreds of asylum seekers from the Nuba Mountains of Sudan who suffered genocidal attacks are to be given the same legal status as people from Darfur, which may shield them from expulsion, the state has told the High Court of Justice.

In a response to a High Court petition against the state demanding that it respond to the asylum requests of this population or grant them special humanitarian status, the state on Friday told the court that any legal decision made regarding the Sudanese from the Darfur region would also apply to those from Nuba and Blue Nile regions. As a result, the state is now looking into giving immediate humanitarian status to Nuba peoples over the age of 41, similar to the status given to asylum seekers from Darfur.

The court submission is the first state recognition of the genocide this population suffered and of the need to give them special consideration. In two weeks the state is expected to respond to a different High Court petition filed against it for not responding to the asylum requests of the Darfurians for years. Both petitions were submitted by attorneys Carmel Pomerantz and Michal Pomerantz.

In the Nuba petition the two argued, “Despite the factual and legal similarities – as clear refugees fleeing an ethnic struggle and genocide that is still going on in Sudan – the interior minister refuses to recognize their request for diplomatic asylum. Despite the factual and legal similarities, the alternative arrangements for humanitarian status apply solely to the Darfurians, while the Nuba peoples have not had any response to their requests or other arrangements made for their status.”

Although the Nuba peoples fought in the same revolutionary organizations in Sudan as the Darfurians and suffered similar persecution from the murderous regime of President Omar al-Bashir, the plight of the Nuba peoples never got the same public attention as the conflict in Darfur, primarily because they are a smaller population. In Israel there are only 400 people from the Nuba Mountains area, but they did not receive the same humanitarian status as was granted to 1,100 Darfurians in the country, nor were they spared the need to report to the Holot detention facility.Like the Darfurians, they have also been waiting years for a decision on their asylum requests.

“I’ve been living in Israel since 2005,” said Hassan Taameh, one of the leaders of the Nuba community in Israel. “Every day I wait to be recognized or to get some response from the state. Ten years ago when they gave status to some of the Darfurians we didn’t understand why they were discriminating between us. We also suffered genocide. I lost my entire family in the war, they all died or were murdered. It was just a less famous war; no one talks about our war, so the state doesn’t deal with us. I submitted my asylum request in 2014 because they only allowed me to submit it then. I hope now there will be justice done and we will get the status we deserve.”

Both attorneys welcomed the state’s announcement, saying, “The state is essentially recognizing for the first time that the residents of Nuba and the Blue Nile region were victims of massacres by the Bashir regime in Sudan. It saddens us that even today the state can’t bring itself to say the obvious – that these people are refugees. It’s not too late to erase the shameful Israeli policy toward the refugees of the oppressive regimes in Africa and to admit that most of the ‘infiltrators’ from Sudan and Eritrea in Israel are refugees.” The state’s announcement is expected to lead to the granting of immediate [humanitarian] status to Nuba people over the age of 40. We hope that the court won’t allow the state to drag its feet regarding the rest of the community.”

The United Nations estimates there are around 3,500 Darfurians in Israel, the vast majority of whom have submitted asylum requests, some of them years ago. The state has not responded to these requests. Recently, following numerous legal proceedings and pressure from courts demanding that the Population and Immigration Authority provide answers, the state seems to have changed its approach to the asylum seekers from Darfur.