Sudanese Asylum Seekers in Israel Elated, Then Disappointed, Over Coup in Sudan

Community leaders lament that defense minister who was part of the ousted president’s regime is now in charge

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Sudanese asylum seeker watching reports from Sudan, Tel Aviv, Israel, April 11, 2019.
Sudanese asylum seeker watching reports from Sudan, Tel Aviv, Israel, April 11, 2019. Credit: Moti Milrod

The joy expressed by Sudanese asylum seekers living in Israel over Thursday’s ouster in a coup of Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, was short-lived. By the afternoon, when Sudanese Defense Minister Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf declared that the military would remain in charge of during a two-year transitional period, the exhilaration was replaced by confusion and disappointment.

“I don’t know what to feel,” said an asylum-seeker named Omar, who was standing outside one of the hookah bars in the vicinity of the Tel Aviv central bus station. “We don’t know what’s happening, and it looks like things are going to remain the same.”

The leaders of the Sudanese community in Israel are not encouraged by the reports of the coup. They are eager to return to their homeland, but say the defense minister, who has assumed power in the country, was part of the ousted regime, meaning that the military takeover doesn’t represent real change there.

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Asylum seekers from Sudan are planning to hold a demonstration in support of the Sudanese people on Saturday in Levinsky Park in Tel Aviv.

Mutasim Ali, the only asylum seeker from Sudan to receive refugee status in Israel, said: “We’re following the developments and we’re deeply disappointed. For us, this isn’t the change the Sudanese people want. The man who took power [the defense minister] was part of the previous regime. We expected something else. It’s very sad. We were happy in the morning and had hope, but now we’ve realized it’s just another political round.”

Asked if he feared Israel would take advantage of the situation to try to deport Sudanese asylum seekers in the country, Ali, who has legal status himself, replied: “At the moment, we’re concerned for the future of our homeland and don’t care how Israel views it. In any case, they haven’t been examining our asylum requests and haven’t been giving us legal status here.”

Some 3,400 refugees from areas of Sudan where genocide has taken place – Darfur, the Nuba mountains and the Blue Nile – have applied for asylum in Israel. Apart from Ali’s request, no other applications for asylum have been acted on, meaning that they have not been granted or rejected. Between 2012 and 2017, Israeli officials responded to court petitions on the issue by stating that the applications for asylum were under consideration. In 2015 the government committed to rule on the asylum requests by February 2016, but failed to do so.

A government source told Haaretz that the recent events in Sudan are not expected to affect the pending asylum requests, adding that the Israeli Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister’s Office are analyzing developments there.

“The defense minister is from Bashir’s government, so the regime will remain as it was, only worse,” said 36-year-old Basor who lives in Israel and spent five years fighting in the anti-government underground in the Nuba mountains. “People [in Sudan] have been demonstrating because the economic situation is really bad and we were pleased the army said it supported the people and will stand by them, but now there’s a lot of confusion.”

Sudanese asylum seekers celebrate ousting of President Omar al-Bashir, Tel Aviv, Israel, April 11, 2019. Credit: Moti Milrod

Sitting at a south Tel Aviv café, Munim Aharon, who came to Israeli in 2012 from the Darfur region, remarked: “We woke up in the morning to the dramatic news from Sudan and expected to see results from months of protest,” and he added: “We kept waiting for the army’s announcement because we knew it wasn’t final. We had hoped the public pressure had toppled the rulers, but the defense minister is an integral part of the regime and one of the people behind the genocide in the Nuba Mountains and Darfur. So for us, all that has changed has been the face of the ruler.”

Another asylum seeker who identified himself as Mubarak and who has been following announcements on social media by leaders of the anti-government protests in Sudan, said the protest leadership has called on followers to continue the street protests until further change takes place.

“We demand a civilian transitional government until a democratic election is held,” Aharon said.

Kunda, one of the local Sudanese community’s leaders, said: “Our goal is to make Sudan a democracy. For 30 years, we’ve suffered under this president, and we won’t give up now and rejoice over a regime that is the continuation of the old one. There have been too many victims and too much suffering for us to give up. My whole family is over there, but I haven’t been able to talk to them for four days because there’s no reception. We won’t give up.”

In December, following the filing of two petitions before Israel’s High Court of Justice, the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority began carrying out a reexamination of some 1,500 requests for asylum from Sudanese nationals from the areas where genocide has been committed. The Israeli government informed the court that it had to reinterview all the applicants because the initial interviews “were not thorough enough to make a decision” and more information was required. The new interviews were also deemed necessary because of the extended amount of time that had elapsed since the applications were initially considered.

Last month Haaretz reported that the immigration authority had acknowledged it would have to grant some requests and that many applicants deserve refugee status. So far, however, no further asylum requests have been granted. Since 2016 some 800 asylum seekers from Darfur received visas similar to those granted refugees, qualifying them to work in Israel, to receive social welfare benefits and to leave Israel and then return. In October, the government said it would no longer grant blanket humanitarian status to Sudanese asylum seekers from Darfur, and would instead examine each application individually.