He hanged himself.
To the Israeli government, at best he was known as a labor migrant or a Sudani and, at worst, as an infiltrator or a cancer in the body of Israel.
The vast majority of the Israeli public probably knew him to be one of those faceless, nameless young black males.
Maybe he washed their dishes at a restaurant or was mildly fear-inducing on a dark, empty street.
To his community, he was Wadjungah - a young man in his late twenties, with dreams, hopes, fears, aspirations and frustrations like everyone else. A minor communal activist, he worked to facilitate meetings for people from his village in North Darfur. People who knew him described him as easy to get along with, pleasant to be around and someone who was well-liked. He was highly motivated and enthusiastically tried to find opportunities to learn and improve himself. He dreamt of getting an education and living a full life.
Wadjungah, whose birth name was Abdulla Ibrahim Itshak Mohammad, was born in Tormo, near the city of Kutum, in North Darfur in 1991. In 2003, the Janjaweed militia entered his village. His father was killed and his mother and siblings fled to a displaced persons camp within Darfur, where they remain today.
In 2010, Wadjungah came to Israel. Initially he lived and worked in Netanya. In 2012, he was sent to the Holot detention center where he lived for almost two years until he was released in August 2014. At Holot, he actively sought to learn English and also life skills, seeking to contribute to himself, his community and his future. Most recently, Wadjungah lived in Tel Aviv.
His friends say that with the implementation of a new policy towards asylum-seekers of imprisonment or deportation, his mood became dark. They believe that he very recently went to renew his two-month visa and his request was denied. Presumably this was the final straw.
Wadjungah spent almost eight years in Israel unable to start a family, go back to school or work towards a meaningful career. When envisioning his future, it seems he hit a dead end.
When considering whether to return to Africa, perhaps Wadjungah remembered the story of Adam who, five weeks after leaving Israel, drowned in the Mediterranean, or Abdul Azim who, two weeks after being voluntarily returned to Rwanda, was killed in South Sudan by thieves intent on stealing the money still left from the 'exit grant' given to him by the Israeli government, or the likely hundreds more like them. Of course, returning to Sudan, the execution site of members of his family, was not an option.
After working dead end jobs, spending two years in detention and then not having his visa removed and being threatened with indefinite detention or deportation, it seems that Wadjungah lost hope. And he lost the will to live.
In that sense, his life story is virtually identical to the vast majority of the remaining 37,700 asylum seekers in Israel.
I have worked with and on behalf of Israels Darfurian community since 2007 and have a number of close friends in the community. Wadjungahs life story is one of thousands that are never told and are simply unknown to most Israelis.
I heard about his death from phone conversations, meetings and on Facebook posts; I heard these bare details that individualize his life - from Omad Shakur (who was with him in the Holot detention center), Yasin Musa and Omar Easa (who are from his home region) and Ismael Abdul Rasul (who was familiar with the two asylum seekers killed after leaving Israel) – and must act as his epitaph. Few will, after all, visit his grave in a small cemetery in south Tel Aviv where Sudanese asylum seekers are laid to rest.
Wadjungahs story is a cautionary tale; what happened to him could easily happen to others. It is also a warning of what may lie in store for others in light of current Israeli policy and practice. I hope that Wadjungahs death is not in vain, and that he can finally rest in peace.
Wadjungah, Abdulla Ibrahim Itshak Mohammad, born in Tormo, North Darfur, 1991. Died: Tel Aviv, January 7th, 2018.
Lisa Richlen is a consultant for Sudanese community organizations in Israel and is currently completing a Ph.D. in African Studies at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. She previously worked for the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, volunteered with the HIAS Refugee Trust (Kenya) and coordinated HIASs Faces of Exile project. She sits on the Board of Directors of The Schoolhouse: Education for Refugees and Asylum Seekers.
Thanks to Omad Shakur, Yasin Musa, Omar Easa and Ismael Abdul Rasul who helped research this article.
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