+972 Magazine's Stories of the Week

Directly In Your Inbox

Analysis News
Visit our Hebrew site, "Local Call" , in partnership with Just Vision.

Authorities round up South Sudanese ahead of mass deportation

The courts cleared the way for deportation of South Sudanese on Thursday, giving them a week to leave voluntarily – but only three days later, authorities have already begun rounding up people.

Police detain a man from South Sudan on Monday, slated for deportation (photo: Activestills)

Update: Haaretz reported on Monday that mass arrests of African asylum seekers and immigrants continued in Eilat and central Israel. Immigration authorities said that 55 Africans had been arrested, among them 45 South Sudanese nationals. Refugees reported that children were among those detained, but this has not been independently verified. 

Eight refugees from South Sudan were detained on Sunday, marking the first step in the deportation of asylum seekers.

African immigrants and asylum seekers in a holding center in Holon on Monday (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills)

On Thursday, the Jerusalem Administrative Court ruled against a petition filed by human rights groups aimed at preventing the expulsion of South Sudanese, which was set to begin on April 1. After the court cleared the way for deportation, the Population and Immigration Authority announced that South Sudanese would have a week to leave Israel on their own.

But today’s arrests came just three days after the court’s ruling.

Police arrest a man from South Sudan on Monday (photo: Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Gabriel Kuol, 29, is one of the South Sudanese facing deportation. Kuol joined the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) when he was just 16 years old after his parents were killed in the civil war.

Explaining his decision to enlist at such a young age, Kuol says, “I didn’t have any options.”

He adds that his family was “a military family.” His uncle, John Garang, was the leader of the SPLA.

Two years into his army service, Kuol was captured by North Sudanese forces. He was beaten and tortured at a prison in Khartoum. In 2004, he managed to escape to Egypt.

According to Kuol and other asylum seekers, refugees were sometimes attacked on the street in Egypt. “I have friends who were killed by Egyptians,” Kuol says. And so, in 2007, he came to Israel.

Speaking to +972, Kuol explains:

[I thought] no one would ever talk about my skin here in Israel—that was the expectation many southern Sudanese had. We expected [acceptance] because we know that this country is [made up of] refugees.

And it’s formed of many nationalities including black people so we were sure that we would not be at risk of racism… now we [are] being hunted in the street.

In the wake of south Tel Aviv’s recent race riots, Kuol says, the old feelings of fear, anxiety, and insecurity—that anything could happen at any time, that he could be attacked or even murdered on the street—have returned. “I feel vulnerable,” he says. “I feel like I’m in North Sudan and Egypt.”

A number of violent incidents have occurred since the race riots. Amine Zegata, an Eritrean refugee who owns a bar that was vandalized the night of the riots, was physically assaulted twice while he cleaned his business. The window he installed to replace the one smashed by Jewish Israelis has already been cracked.

Sigal Rozen of the Hotline for Migrant Workers says that  asylum seekers come to her organization every day to complain of attacks or threats made by Jewish Israelis.

Rozen also recounts meeting a refugee in a south Tel Aviv park last week. The man took his shirt off to show her fresh stitches on his stomach. Rozen recalls, “He said, ‘this is what they did to me in HaTikva neighbourhood.’”

Kuol is scared by the prospect of being attacked. He is also frightened about returning to South Sudan. There have been skirmishes along the border with North Sudan; the north has bombed the south; and Kuol is certain that the 2005 peace treaty will not hold. War between the two states is on the horizon.

Kuol feels that he is in particular danger for being a vocal critic of the “Arab, Muslim” north. His family’s role in the SPLA and his own military service could also make him a target. “And, in South Sudan, the security situation is not stable,” he says.

He is also worried about the fate of the 700-1500 South Sudanese who are facing deportation from Israel. “[They] won’t have anywhere to live. You can choose to sleep under a tree. But, if you do that, you still have to worry about food.”

Kuol is particularly concerned about the children “who were born here. This is their home now; they don’t know anything about South Sudan.”

He adds that he knows several of the men who were detained today.

Kuol says that he is having a hard time absorbing the news of his imminent deportation. “It’s too much for a human being to sit down and think about it, too much even to believe what’s happening.” He looks around his apartment, he adds, and he doesn’t know what to do. Should he pack?

One thing is certain. Kuol is not going back to South Sudan on his own accord.

“I’m not going to hide,” he says. But, “I’m going to make them come to me.”

While we are talking in a Jerusalem cafe, approximately 300 African asylum seekers are gathering in south Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Park and marching to the United Nations’ Tel Aviv offices. They hold signs that read “Human, not cancer,” in reference to Knesset Member Miri Regev’s remark that Africans are “cancer in our body.”

“Human not Cancer.” Asylum seekers marching to UN mission, Tel Aviv, June 10, 2012 (Photo: Activestills)

Their signs also call on the country not to forget its history and demand social justice for both the residents of south Tel Aviv and the refugees alike.

When asked why he isn’t attending the march, Kuol answers, “The Israelis will do whatever they can to get rid of us. Protests will not help.”

“For me, it’s just, ‘God, be with us.’”

Kuol is angered by the media’s and Israeli government’s depiction of the refugees. He repeats the list of names both use: infiltrators, illegals.

“Why would someone call me that?” he asks, pointing out that he has a state-issued visa in his pocket.

He is disappointed that Israel has forgotten the deportations the Jewish people faced under the Nazi regime and says he doesn’t understand why the South Sudanese, a small community, have been singled out for expulsion.

I don’t have the heart to tell Kuol that the South Sudanese haven’t been singled out; that, if the state has its way, all African refugees will be deported.

Israeli coalition members speak about refugees 
UN refugee official: Deportations of Africans unlikely
Africans attacked in Tel Aviv protest; MKs:’ infiltrators’ are cancer

Before you go...

A lot of work goes into creating articles like the one you just read. And while we don’t do this for the money, even our model of non-profit, independent journalism has bills to pay.

+972 Magazine is owned by our bloggers and journalists, who are driven by passion and dedication to the causes we cover. But we still need to pay for editing, photography, translation, web design and servers, legal services, and more.

As an independent journalism outlet we aren’t beholden to any outside interests. In order to safeguard that independence voice, we are proud to count you, our readers, as our most important supporters. If each of our readers becomes a supporter of our work, +972 Magazine will remain a strong, independent, and sustainable force helping drive the discourse on Israel/Palestine in the right direction.

Support independent journalism in Israel/Palestine Donate to +972 Magazine today
View article: AAA
Share article
Print article

    * Required


    1. Caden: As usual, your comment was off-topic and belligerent. I have warned you on multiple occasions. You are no longer permitted to post on my channel. Best, Mya

      Reply to Comment
    2. Rehmat

      Another lesson for the brainwashed.

      “I have a law degree and a master’s degree. I served in the Army. Another friend of mines who was beaten up is a PhD candidate. We are Israeli citizens. But none of that matters. Ever since we came, the state has treated us as if we should say thank you for anything we receive, as if we have no rights as Jews and Israelis. But now we are affraid because in the eyes of White Jews, we are first of all Blacks,” Elias Inbram, former spokesperson for Israeli embassy in South Africa, told JTA (June 4, 2012).


      Reply to Comment
    3. Woody

      I’m too am critical of how effective protest actions can be at this point. However, I think there is a place for it. The Sudanese community managed to bring out a large group and a march to the UNHCR with international law demands represents one strategy.

      I was sort of confused why there is a photo of today’s protest while the article is entirely from the perspective of one who skipped it. I’d like to hear, in English, the arguments made by those who attended the protest. This is a major debate being had in the refugee community and the increased pressure of deportations demands that it be discussed.

      Reply to Comment
    4. good point about the photo, woody. from my understanding of the conversation happening within the refugee community… most people feel like there is nowhere to go. they can’t go back to their home countries. egypt wasn’t safe–that’s why they came here. they would go on to europe or the states or canada if they could. but that’s not simple. and they’re here. ultimately, everyone i’ve talked to says the same thing: i want to go home, eventually. i think that the rift you see between the photo and kuol’s sentiments represent a rift in the way some are processing things. there are many refugees who are exhausted and traumatized and just don’t have any fight left in them. there are others who don’t feel like there is a choice but to protest their conditions in hope of bringing attention to them and in hope that this attention will help change things. in psychology, the former attitude is called learned helplessness and it’s typical in people who have suffered serious abuse and other traumas.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Kolumn9

      Look, the point this guy makes about children born in Israel is precisely the problem. The parents are just happy [or were] to be safe. Human rights organizations support this. The children will demand full citizenship and equality on the basis of being born in the country. Human rights organizations will support this. If enough migrants come in and bring their children and brother and sisters there will be enough to completely overturn the state of Israel and turn it into a semi-African republic. And human rights organizations will support this.

      This is the fundamental problem here. The more lenient you are as a relatively wealthy country in terms of policy towards the migrants the more likely more of them will show up and overwhelm the country. For example, for every gasterbeiter that Germany or Holland allowed into the country came another 20 people on the basis of family reunification, marriage, etc.. If the 100,000 mostly male migrants in Israel pursue the same course Israel will be changed permanently from being a nation state. The only way to deal with this is to prevent such a situation from coming about by expelling them and not letting more in. Where real refugees need asylum there can be some humane treatment, but no path to permanent residence or citizenship. Doing anything else given the continued poverty and the growth of the population of East Africa is an invitation to disaster.

      Reply to Comment
    6. SamJS

      Interesting, what pulls those guys to Israel?
      I heard Israel accepted over 240 thousands of them in 5 years

      Reply to Comment
    7. Joel


      Don’t turn around, the Commissar’s in town–Falco

      Reply to Comment
    8. max

      Mya, it’s not clear to me what your issue is.
      Is it that the court is wrong or racist in its decision? Is it that it doesn’t follow your view of justice beyond law? Is it that the Immigration Authority said one week and shortened it to 3 days?

      Reply to Comment
    9. Aaron the Fascist Troll

      My first comment is still stuck in moderation, but maybe this shorter version will get through. My question is, how was Kuol’s biography fact-checked? It was presented as fact, not as just his own description. For instance, “Kuol joined the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) when he was just 16 years old….” Not that he *said* he joined the SPLA at 16; he *joined*. How was this fact-checked? I’m not disputing any of the statements, just wondering how they were sourced.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Aaron the Fascist Troll

      Correction, I guess I meant “verified,” not “fact-checked,” in the above.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Caden: I don’t know anything about Rehmat’s personal views and I don’t see anything in his comment that substantiates your claim. Again, I’ve banned you from my channel. Please refrain from commenting. Your comments will just be deleted.
      Max: This isn’t an op-ed, it’s news. So you’re not be able to tell “my issue” is. Best, Mya

      Reply to Comment
    12. sh

      “If the 100,000 mostly male migrants in Israel pursue the same course Israel will be changed permanently from being a nation state.”
      Jawohl Herr Kolumnneun.
      You have noticed, I suppose, that Israel never was a nation state if you include the large percentage of non-Jews that were already here when the state was declared, the fact that ethnically the Jews themselves are not homogeneous and that Russians and Ethiopia brought here under the law of return are not Jewish either;
      and that nation states were a novelty most of which wore themselves out quickly and bloodily. There are not many nation states left in the west we’re always told we’re part of.
      Maybe nation states aren’t all they’re cracked up to be? Whatever, today ours seems to be a figment of our own imagination.

      Reply to Comment
    13. charles

      The article is well written and documented but presents these refugees as pure victims. On an other side I have read other articles on the same subjects that present them as rapers and robberers.
      One has to know that these people presented as refugees are actually survivors, they crossed the desert in quest of a safe haven so they can finally have a life. They went through abuse, life threatning violence, rape, extorsion and so on for years and they end on our borders as thick as tooth picks and we cannot see a good side to these people ?
      If one smiles to them in the street, one will get ten times ones’ smile back.
      The heart of Africans is enormous. They don’t need pity, they need education and work.
      If the government could offer the ones who manage to cross our borders a contract of 3 years with the possibility to work, learn and save, they may leave the country with hope and tools to build their future in their own country.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Aaron the Fascist Troll

      Salutations, Charles. I like the Africans, just from walking through African neighborhoods every day. I don’t talk to them, but it’s very obvious that they’re much politer and more well-mannered than Israelis. They seem to be very likeable people, more likeable and personable than Israelis.
      I want the Africans out of Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Kolumn9

      Comrade Sh, you might notice if you look around that Israel is most certainly a nation state, albeit with national minorities. This is pretty damn normal for a nation state. In fact it is pretty clear from your writing that not only is it obvious to you that Israel is a nation state, but that this is precisely what you don’t like about it. Novelty eh? There are quiet a few nation states in the world and the Western model, whatever it is, is looking more and more like a historical flop soon to go the same way as Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. You know, all those wonderful states the left used to pretend could be used as models for Israel because in Eastern Europe they too had gone past the novelty of the nation state.

      Also, I don’t get the attachment of some in Israel to the aging and declining West. Whatever conceptual and political models that place has have proved themselves to be impractical in the real world. This is especially the case for Western ideas of absorbing migrants and refugees, as pretty much every government in Western Europe has admitted in recent years. Nation states or not, they openly admit their attempts to create whatever it is that is supposed to replace the nation state have failed spectacularly.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Palestinian

      “overturn the state of Israel and turn it into a semi-African republic” really ? but when Zionists turned Palestine (whether it was recognized as an indepedent state or not) into a Jewish republic by force/terrorism …that was okay ? I call that hypocrisy

      Reply to Comment
    17. Kolumn9

      Funny Palestinian. If this ‘Palestine’ of yours wasn’t a state, then what was it that was turned into a Jewish republic? There isn’t any moral issues with turning an unclaimed geographic area into a state, especially where one has a long-standing claim to it. This is especially the case where the area is sparsely populated by people with no national consciousness whatsoever.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Charles

      Hey Aaron the fachist troll,
      Thank you for answering me.
      What you say proves that the Israeli society has not been enough in contact with “foreigners”, people who are fondamentally different from us. It does not understand them, then it fears them and finally reject them.
      I grew up in West Africa, and for me walking in south TA reminds me my golden years playing the best football with the nicest people possible.
      This situation in my eyes also reflects one of the core problem of jewish people: We are so much absorbed with ourselves and our practice of religion that we cut ourselves from the others. It identified that a long time ago when I was a kid and decided to meet everyone possible.
      This flow of refugees is a unique occasion to express our level of civilization, so let’s wake up and do it. It is a chance to overcome the fear and get enrich ourself from their culture.
      Just remember that we were and still treated as rats (chased and killed), look at them, we were them. Let’s give them a chance.

      Reply to Comment
    19. Joel

      Aaron said:

      “They seem to be very likeable people, more likeable and personable than Israelis.

      I want the Africans out of Israel.”

      Aaron is right on both counts.

      Reply to Comment