Most Darfur Refugees Receive Status of Legal Foreign Workers

15 December 2008 By New Israel Fund

As Israel continues to deal with the controversial issue of refugees from Darfur, an NIF grantee is playing a key role in resolving the crisis.

"Most of the 250 refugees from Darfur," explains Sigal Rozen, Coordinator of Public Activities for NIF grantee Hotline for Migrant Workers in Israel, "are being allowed to continue living and working in Israel with the status of legal foreign workers."

The NIF family took up the issue of the Darfur refugees more than a year ago, placed the topic high on the public agenda and is leading the fight to allow the asylum seekers to stay in Israel.

Rozen notes that there are now an additional 1,000 refugees in Israel from other regions of Sudan who are fleeing wars, repression and poverty. Many refugees, both from Darfur and other regions, have been taken in by kibbutzim. Most are working in the hotel industry, with more than half the refugees currently employed by hotels in Eilat. However, 250 refugees remain detained in Israeli prisons and the Hotline is working around the clock to ensure that they are released.

Mother and child: Two Sudanese refugees find a safe haven in Israel.

NIF's policy has been to assist its family of organizations in alleviating the immediate suffering of the refugees and in finding long term solutions. NIF grantees have been cooperating with national organizations, local authorities including moshavim (collective farming settlements) and kibbutzim, international organizations, such as the UN High Commission on Refugees, and coordinating the efforts of volunteers and ad-hoc organizations. Several have been working tirelessly to promote our shared vision and strategy on behalf of the Darfur refugees including:

Assaf (Organization for Psychological Aid to Refugees and Asylum Seekers), a recently founded organization, received an emergency grant from NIF. Sharon Ramon, a special education teacher with expertise in treating trauma and one of the founders of Assaf, has worked as a volunteer in Darfur refugee camps in Chad.

"This is what makes Assaf unique," she explains. "We are a group of 20 volunteers who all have hands-on experience in Africa working with refugees, and can help relieve the material and psychological suffering of those who have reached Israel."

Assaf is still at the stage of providing basic initial humanitarian assistance required by the refugees such as food, medication, toys for children, etc. The organization assists the refugees with finding employment and housing and works with the medical authorities during examinations. Assaf now plans to develop a treatment program to address the psychological needs of the refugees, particularly the children – many of whom have survived unspeakable horrors, including witnessing the rape and murder of family members and entire villages set afire.

The African Refugees Development Center, another NIF grantee, is staffed by people who are refugees from Africa themselves. The organization also provides basic humanitarian assistance to the newcomers from Sudan and collaborates with organizations such as Hotline for Migrant Workers, Physicians for Human Rights, Rabbis for Human Rights and other members of the NIF family in the forefront of assistance to the refugees. "We are able to help other Israeli organizations understand the requirements of these refugees by performing basic tasks like translating and explaining their emotional needs because these are experiences we know ourselves at first hand," explained Yohanis Lababyu, the Center's founder and Executive Director, who received political asylum in Israel after fleeing persecution in Ethiopia.

Tisha B'Av: NIF grantee BINA: Center for Jewish Identity and Hebrew Culture arranged a cultural event in Tel Aviv on Monday evening stressing the contemporary relevance of the fast, which commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples. Part of the evening was dedicated to Churban (destruction) and Tikkun Olam (improving the world) as demonstrated by the Darfur genocide.