South Sudanese Delegation to Help Repatriate Illegal Migrants

Immigration officials from South Sudan will meet with officials from Israel's Immigration and Population Authority.

The South Sudanese government will send a delegation to Israel this week to coordinate the repatriation of South Sudanese citizens who are illegally in the country.

According to a Foreign Ministry source, immigration officials from South Sudan will meet with officials from Israel's Immigration and Population Authority.

On Sunday, a plane will take off for South Sudan with around 200 South Sudanese nationals aboard, bound for the capital Juba. The group consists largely of people who had decided to return home before the deportation operation began this week. They also signed a document stating their willingness to be repatriated.

"People who are being picked up on the street or who approach the immigration authority are being told that if they don't sign the document, they won't be allowed to collect their belongings and will remain in custody, so I have my doubts about how many are leaving of their own free will," said Dr. Rami Gudovitch, a migrants' rights activist and head of community relations for the Levinsky Library.

According to Gudovitch, on Monday "a family with five children from one and a half years old to 15 years old was taken to Saharonim [detention center] because the mother refused to sign the document. The children were terrified."

In mid-July, another planeload of 200 South Sudanese will leave Israel, among them people who received permission from the authorities to wait until the end of their children's school year.

The Foreign Ministry and South Sudanese government agreed that the repatriation of the South Sudanese would be accomplished in a way that provided the best possible integration.

Israel has pledged to provide job training in Israel for South Sudanese who agree to return home willingly. Discussions are also under way for Israel to provide aid for job training once deportees return to South Sudan, including agricultural training.

On Tuesday, the third day of the Population and Immigration Authority's arrest sweep, 100 men were detained, most of them from South Sudan.

In addition, 280 requests were submitted for voluntary departure. From the beginning of the current operation, more than 300 such requests have been submitted.

The authority made most of its arrests in Tel Aviv and Eilat.

Although only citizens of South Sudan and Ivory Coast can be deported after Israel lifted its collective protection of these groups, other Africans who are not subject to deportation are being caught in the sweep.

"I was arrested twice," said Armon, an Eritrean migrant. "I explain that I'm not from South Sudan, and they interrogated me for a long time and said 'we'll get to you, too.' It's a bad feeling when they're chasing you even though you haven't committed a crime."

The Population and Immigration Authority is examining the cases of 15 South Sudanese children who were removed from their homes by the welfare authorities by court order.

The refugee aid organization Assaf submitted the list of children to the population authority, which asked welfare agencies for recommendations in each child's case.

"We will act in each case according to the welfare authorities' recommendations, and we will be very careful," said Yossi Edelstein, head of enforcement in the immigration authority.

"If a child can't return to his family due to any kind of risk, the child won't return to the family and we won't separate parents from children," he said, meaning that these children and their parents would be able to remain in Israel.

An official from the Immigration and Population Authority questioning a Sudanese migrant.
Alex Levac