JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel, don’t shut the door in our faces.
My name is Monim Harun, an asylum seeker from Sudan. I was born in a small village nested between mountains and forests, where we lived together as one big family. At a young age I was separated from my family and the people I loved most in the world when the militia forces attacked our village. They went through the village killing every man and boy in sight, but by a miracle I survived. My mother wanted me to live in a safer place and have the opportunity to study, so in 2001, at the age of 12, she sent me to the other side of the country, to the Blue Nile region of the Republic of Sudan.
When I left the village it felt bittersweet – leaving behind my mother and sisters, and the people I loved. But I knew that in doing so, I would be able to acquire new skills that would help me rebuild my community on my return. In the Blue Nile region I completed elementary through high school, and was accepted to Blue Nile University. I spent three years there studying toward a degree in electrical engineering — five years are required for the program. During those years I joined a student organization that fights against the rule of radical Islam in Sudan, and calls for a democratic, secular and liberal system of government. My involvement in social and political advocacy wound up placing my life in great danger, all the more so because my Fur ethnicity is one against which the Sudanese government has been perpetrating genocide.
In 2011, the Sudanese dictatorship decided to attack the area in which I was studying. I was forced to flee the Blue Nile region when the security forces began searching for me in order to arrest me. After trying many times to return and finish my studies, I finally realized in 2012 that I would not be able to remain in the country. The security forces continued searching for me and arrested some of my friends, one of whom was held in captivity for three years and only released in 2014. I fled to Egypt but was unable to remain there because the Muslim Brotherhood, who were in power at that time, were sympathetic to Sudan’s Islamist government.
I made my way to Israel, arriving in June 2012. Upon arrival I was sent to prison for three years and later was told that I would be deported to the country from which I fled, despite my request for asylum and my statement that my life would be in danger if I were sent back. I was imprisoned for a year and a half in Saharonim prison and then was held in the Holot detention center until January 2015.
Israel’s current deportation plan is the final stage in its established policy of pressuring us, the African asylum seekers, to leave the country. Israel has already been taking some of the money that we earn from our work in the lowliest jobs available (asylum seekers must put aside 20 percent of their salaries until they leave Israel) by refusing all of our asylum requests and imprisoning many of us indefinitely in Saharonim.
All of these policies, and many others, stem from the state’s approach to us as “infiltrators” rather than refugees. The economic punishments inflicted upon us have indeed made our lives difficult, but that is certainly not what bothers us the most, nor is it what stands at the head of our struggle as asylum seekers. Our struggle is to be seen, and treated, as human beings.
What is incredibly frightening to me is how the Israeli government has succeeded in disconnecting itself from the history and values of the Jewish people.
How can the Jewish people forget the meaning of the word “refugee”?
How can a people who were forced again and again to flee their homes decide not to give temporary refuge to those who are fleeing their homes today?
It is obvious to me that the majority of the Israeli public does not know why the Sudanese and Eritreans arrive in Israel. They do not see us as “refugees.”
This raises the question: How would you define a refugee?
A person who suffered force labor, violence, rape and torture in his own country — is he not a refugee? Someone who was persecuted only because of her religion and ethnic background – is she not a refugee?
A person forced to flee his home only because of his skin color – is he not a refugee?
Someone whose village was burned and her family members killed in front of her eyes – is she not a refugee?
And he who survived a genocide – is he not a refugee?
If these people are not considered refugees in Israel, than who is?
Believe me, it is not pleasant for anyone to leave his country, his house and his family, and to go in search of asylum in a place he does not know. One will only do this if he has come to the conclusion that an unknown future in a foreign land is better than a certain death now.
The area in Darfur from where I originated has been attacked many times by the Sudanese government. Last year they started using chemical weapons. This is what has already been happening on a daily basis in the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile region.
In fact, just a week ago, on March 22, the area in which I was born and raised was attacked again. Dozens of people were killed, most of whom are women and children.
There are many more like me in Israel, people whose families are being attacked every day in the Nuba Mountains, the Blue Nile region and in Darfur, asylum seekers who wake up every day not knowing whether their relatives are still alive. If you live in Israel, they travel next to you on the bus, they wash your dishes in the restaurant in which you will eat tomorrow and they clean the streets on which you walk. And all the while, they are living in constant fear for the lives of the people they love.
We understand that the government of Israel does not want us here, but we have nowhere else to go.
Therefore, our last and only hope lies with the Israeli people and the Jewish nation. When you stand with us, it gives us inspiration. Only you can protect us now that we have lost hope in every other direction. Please don’t shut the door in our faces. Don’t let this disaster happen.
(Monim Harun is a Sudanese asylum seeker, community activist and a member of the African Students Organization in Israel based in Jerusalem.)