Darfuri Refugee: “I Can’t Go Back to Another Prison”
Written by: Sigal Rozen
Adam (not his real name), a survivor of the genocide in Darfur, has been living in Israel for nine years. In early 2008 he did not received the temporary residency status all his Darfuri friends received due to failures of the Ministry of Interior. When he managed to find work even with his “conditional release” visa, Adam stopped frequenting the Ministry of Interior offices and made do with the status he had. Now that he was summoned to Holot because he lacks temporary residency, he feels he cannot go back to prison again. The Ministry of Interior offered Adam to leave Israel instead of being jailed, and he agreed to leave to any country that is not Sudan, but the queue of people “willing” to leave is long, and the Ministry of Interior does not allow those in line to continue with their lives. Adam has to hide until the time of his departure to a country he’s never been to, another country where he hopes to find asylum and there’s no guarantee that he will.
Adam is not even 30, but he spent most of his life looking for safety, searching and not finding it. He fled Darfur, where he was born, when he was 14. “I was a kid,” he says “but they thought I was helping the rebels and placed me in prison. In prison they did this to me!” he recalls and points to his disfigured leg (disturbing image), which couldn’t withstand the harsh torture. “When I got out of prison, I was afraid that I’ll be arrested again and I fled to Egypt. In Egypt too, I had to be careful all the time because there are agents of the government of Khartoum in Egypt. After what happened in Mustapha Mahmoud, they arrested us all” recalls Adam, referring to the protest of Sudanese refugees in Mustapha Mahmoud garden in front of the UNHCR office in Cairo, a sit-in that was dispersed by Egyptian security forces who opened live fire at the peaceful protesters. 27 refugees were killed as a result, and many were injured and arrested. “Because I had a blue refugee card, the UNHCR released me from Egyptian prison very quickly, in about a week, but it was very difficult for me in prison. We realized that Egypt is not a place where one can receive protection and that we must look for it elsewhere.”
Adam did not know much about Israel, he just knew that he could not stay in Egypt. He walked through the Sinai desert, crossed the border in early 2006 and was one of the first Darfuri refugees to enter Israel. After entering Israel, he waited for IDF soldiers who picked him and transferred to the Ktziot tent prison. “In prison in Israel, they didn’t beat us and didn’t torture us, but a prison is a prison. I was there for a year and month and all of us wanted to be released from prison,” says Adam. In March 2007, after many efforts, the activists of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants succeeded in releasing Adam and his fellow Darfuri detainees to a detention alternative in an orchard in Hadera. Adam worked in the orchard with fellow refugees from Darfur and an Administrative Tribunal order prevented them from leaving the orchard where they lived and worked.
Adam did not find safety in the orchard in Hadera either. In late July 2007, inspectors of the Hadera municipality barged into the living quarters of the group, and under the orders of the Mayor Haim Avitan, placed the group on a bus that dropped them off at the Bell Park in Jerusalem. The next morning, the mayor explained to the media that he expelled “the infiltrators” because “Hadera is no the garbage can of the country.” To prevent their punishment for violating a court order and leaving the orchard, Hotline activists informed the Special Adviser to the Minister of Defense who in two days approved the release of the group from the detention alternative to Tel Aviv.
Two months later, under significant pressure from American Jewry and activists in Israel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided to grant temporary residency to the 500 Darfuri refugees who were in Israel at the time. Adam believed that his fate is about to change and that he’s about to, for the first time in many years, gain a sense of peace and security. Adam’s friends were granted the status in January 2008, but Adam kept being summoned on a monthly basis to the Ministry of Interior offices in Lod and told time and time again that next time he’ll receive the documents. After several months, after he felt secure at his workplace and no significant difference between his conditional release visa and his friends’ status, he stopped bothering himself and the Ministry of Interior clerks and tried to move on with his life.
In March 2014 Adam found out that it’s now possible to file for asylum at the Ministry of Interior. “I didn’t understand why I suddenly need to ask for asylum. The UN examined my case and I received refugee status in Egypt already. When I entered Israel in early 2006 I also told them that I’m a refugee from Darfur. I said the same to the UNHCR in Israel. Now I need to say it again? They told me that I need to fill paperwork, so I filled out papers again and handed them to the Ministry of Interior. I don’t know what they do with our papers, but they haven’t said a thing about my asylum request thus far.”
Last month, Adam received a painful reminder of his different status when he arrived to renew his visa, as he does every one or two months. He was summoned to the Holot facility for indefinite detention. “I knew what Holot is,” says Adam “all my friends are already there. Some said they cannot be in prison anymore and went to Africa. But even though all my friends are there, I feel that I cannot go there. I can’t be in prison once again. Even though there are no beatings in Israel prisons, it reminds me of the beatings in the prisons in Sudan and Egypt. I can’t go to prison on my own. If they catch me and there’s no choice, I’ll go wherever they tell me, but I’m not going back to another prison on my own. I told people at the Ministry of Interior that they had said that I’ll have temporary residency and that I cannot go back to prison. I told them I spent a long time in prison. They said that it’s done – they don’t give temporary residency in Israel anymore and that now I need to go either to Sudan or to Holot. But If I go back to Sudan, this will be the end of me. They said ‘you can also go to Uganda’ and I said ‘okay’. I don’t know anyone there, but in Israel I didn’t know anyone either. I’m a little afraid of going to Uganda, but I’m even more afraid of going back to prison.”
When Adam found out that Ugandan Ministry of Interior officials takes the traveling documents of the refugees coming from Israel upon their arrival at the airport in Uganda and that they remain without any identifying documents, he got scared and approached the Hotline with the hope that we’ll be able to prevent his indefinite detention in Holot and deportation to a foreign country where he’ll remain without papers and protection. Adam still plans to leaving to Uganda when his time to go arrives, but the queue of people attempting to flee from Israel to Uganda is getting longer, while registering to deportation does not protect the asylum-seekers waiting to be deported from detention. “You wait in Holot,” the Ministry of Interior clerks told Adam.
The Hotline sent the Ministry of Interior an appeal on humanitarian grounds, reminding of the torture he underwent as a child in Sudan, his refugee card in Egypt, and the failures of Israeli authorities that resulted in Adam not having temporary residency in Israel – if Adam had that status, he wouldn’t have been forced to leave to Holot. The Hotline’s appeal and a number of reminders remain unanswered while Adam continues to hide and hope that he won’t get arrested.
Adam hopes that one day he could stop hiding and fleeing to safety, and that he’ll be able to find a place where he can start a family, work, and just live without fearing that he’ll be sent to prison again.