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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 March 2007, 13:55 GMT
Darfur Refugees seek Israeli home
By Martin Patience
BBC News, Jerusalem

Sudanese refugees visit the Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem
Some of the Darfur refugees visited Israel's Holocaust museum

Three years ago, David, a 26-year-old corn farmer, fled his burning village in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Janjaweed - Arab militiamen loyal to the Khartoum government - rode into the village on horseback armed with machineguns and began killing the inhabitants.

They torched his family home. "The fire ate my father," said David. His brother was also killed in the attack.

David escaped to Egypt but was afraid that the authorities would send him back to Sudan.

He then took the extraordinary step of paying Bedouin smugglers to take him to Israel.

"I knew they [Israelis] would help as they would understand," said David, standing outside Jerusalem's Holocaust Memorial, where a group of 10 Sudanese refugees visited this week.

"I saw all the pictures of these people suffering [Jews in Europe during World War II] and it reminded me of my village."

Detention Centres

David is one of about 300 Sudanese refugees who have made the journey from a country in the grip of what has been called "genocide", to a country that was created after the Jewish Holocaust in Europe.

But because Israel considers Sudan to be an enemy state its "enemy infiltration" law means that it cannot offer asylum to anyone from a country that does not recognise the Jewish state.

We cannot stand by as refugees from genocide in Darfur are knocking on our doors.
Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev

The refugees will only give their first names in fear of reprisals if they ever returned to their homeland.

Initially, all the refugees that crossed the border in the last few years were placed in detention centres awaiting their fate from the Israeli judiciary.

Like David, about a 100 of the refugees have been placed in Kibbutzim - Israeli collective farms - around the country.

Of the 300 Sudanese refugees, about 70 are from Darfur and the rest from the north or south of the country.

Jewish Values

Sudan's north-south civil war has lasted more than two decades and made more than four million people homeless. The fighting in Darfur has created more two million refugees.

The utmost priority is pressing the government to grant full rights to these refugees
Anat Ben Dor, attorney

Here in Israel, it is particularly the fate of the Darfur refugees - where over 200,000 people have been killed in the region in what US President George W Bush has called genocide - that has sparked a degree of moral soul-searching.

When the group of refugees gathered at Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev told them, "As Jews, who have the memory of the Shoah embedded within us, we cannot stand by as refugees from genocide in Darfur are knocking on our doors.

"The memory of the past, and the Jewish values that underpin our existence, command us to humanitarian solidarity with the persecuted."

An umbrella organisation, The Committee for Advancement of Refugees from Darfur, has been established to fight for the refugees' rights.

Hope and Sorrow

While the Israeli government insists that it is doing all it can to resolve the problem, some members of the committee say they should do more.

Sudanese refugees in the Hall of Names, Holocaust History Museum
Quiet reflection for these refugees from Darfur

"The utmost priority is pressing the government to grant full rights to these refugees" said Anat Ben Dor, an attorney in the Refugee Rights Clinic at Tel Aviv University.

Israel has made exceptions to non-Jewish asylum seekers in the past. In the 1990s, a group of Bosnian Muslims were granted asylum in the Jewish state.

Back at Yad Vashem, the group of refugees from Darfur wander through halls with pictures, films and exhibitions of the suffering of European Jews before and after World War II.

Some of the group took photographs, but most quietly reflected. For David, the trip was one of hope and sorrow.

"I hope the killing in Darfur ends," he said. "And then we can build a memorial that will commemorate all those people that didn't make it."


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