Tel Aviv Students Fight to Stop Classmate From Being Deported to South Sudan

Students explain United Nations' position that situation has grown worse since South Sudan declared independence, contrary to Israel's viewpoint.

Students at a prominent Tel Aviv high school are fighting to keep a 12th-grade classmate from being deported to South Sudan.

Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium student Roman Pugi, 19, fled from Sudan with his family almost a decade ago. He was recently informed by the Population, Immigration and Border Authority that he would be sent back to South Sudan, along with approximately 1,000 other asylum seekers from the same region.

The children of foreign workers
Alon Ron

Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium students made posters in homeroom proclaiming: "We will not abandon our friend," ahead of a demonstration Wednesday morning by students and faculty.

Groups of students are going from class to class, explaining the United Nations' position that the situation has grown worse since South Sudan declared its independence last year, contrary to Israel's viewpoint.

Students also sent letters to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Sara Netanyahu and to the education and interior ministers.

Or Atlai, one of Pugi's classmates, said they told the ministers that "we have to see help to refugees as a privilege, as a strong and humane nation. We have explained that they don't want to stay here; they want to go back when they know they will be safe."

Principal Zeev Dagani said: "It is our responsibility to prevent this horrific and un-Jewish act. The interior minister who boasts about his Judaism in fact is doing the un-Jewish thing."

Roman Pugi and his five siblings were born in North Sudan after his parents fled the south. "We studied in low-level schools for children from the south and they forced us to study Islam although we are Christians," he said. "They kept setting fire to our house; we had no money. I hardly saw my father because the government kept arresting him. Finally, in 2003, we decided to flee."

The family spent four years in Egypt, where Pugi said they also suffered discrimination and violence. And so, in 2007 they crossed into Israel with the help of Bedouin guides.

Pugi added: "I'm only asking for protection for a while until things are alright in our country. I also want to do my matriculation exams here and then I will have the right tools to help the new country."