Asylum seekers from Darfur, South Sudan, and Eritrea have found their way to Israel seeking a better life. Many are staying in a park outside the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv.
Yesterday I went to that park to help distribute food and talk with those who spoke English. I’m planning to go several more times this week.
I was able to visit with several polite young men from Darfur. Very heartbreaking as I was told about the misery they had left, the misery of their journey, and the misery they now face as illegal aliens in Israel, living outside in a park with no work at the mercy of government bureaucracy.
The following short video is a good overview of the situation.
What will happen to the refugees is unclear. However, as recent as this month (February) Israel’s Interior Ministry announced South Sudanese nationals have to repatriate by March, arguing they no longer need protection since South Sudan gained independence. They will be given $1,300 and a plane ticket if they voluntarily resettle, but any who do not repatriate will be deported. (source)
But what about the guys I talked with last night from Darfur in Western Sudan? They told me they’d heard their situation would change by March, but I’m afraid that change may be for the worst (for them).
Among Israeli’s, there are some who are quite vocal in desiring the African’s returning where they came from. Even last night one man came by where we were giving out dinners and began shouting at us to stop helping these illegal miscreants. He wouldn’t leave us alone for quite some time, and it caused not a little excitement.
The ministry I was helping out with last night is called Voice in the Wilderness. Their goal at the park is to show Christ’s love in action through providing physical care and at the same time tell people about Jesus, providing free Bibles, etc.
The food we served was pita bread with soup (the soup wasn’t ordinary soup, but really good stuff). After that was all gone (about 500 meals later) we made up three huge pots of oatmeal (sweetened to a dessert dish). Tony, the organizer, told me his desire was to make the food good quality, and I think he did a good job. I was also impressed with how orderly the whole proceeding went.
The Sudanese I talked with were very respectful and nice. Though there are reports of some causing problems (what do you expect with that many idle young men sitting around), I was struck with the pleasant good-natured dispositions of ones I was in contact with. And some were quite educated as well, one man I was talking with (Michael) had a degree in Computer Science. I told him my brother works with computers and he wanted to know what he did. I described as best I could and he said he knew about SQL and Microsoft databases and stuff. He said he wished he could study here in the park (he had been there two months) and if I had any computer books he would appreciate them. The only book he had was the Bible, and he told me he was studying that, currently reading through the book of John. He said he wasn’t reading it like a newspaper, but had to go slowly paragraph by paragraph understand it. And he said he was reading an English Bible instead of an Arabic one because it was “those” people who had killed his family.
I didn’t take any pictures, but there is an EXCELLENT 6-minute video here, titled, “A Day in the Life of an African Refugee in south Tel-Aviv.” You can can see for yourself what type of people these are and what challenges they face. It’s kinda moving.
In regards to independent organizations stepping up to provide assistance, I found the following quote revealing:
Unlike the authorities’ unclear approach towards asylum seekers, Israeli NGOs support for this group has been clear and noteworthy. Since the influx of asylum seekers crossing through Egypt, numerous Israeli NGOs and civil society have been actively involved in advocating for this group’s rights, challenging government policies, placing the refugee issue issue on the political agenda, and providing social services such as shelter, food, and medical support. However, the NGOs’ determination and dedication to provide social services has to some degree permitted the Israeli government’s inaction on the asylum issue. (source)
It’s unfortunate every coin has two sides. On the one hand, providing basic needs is necessary. On the other hand, it enables the government to sit around and do nothing indefinitely and perhaps prolongs the agony. But what do you do?