Published 11:11 10.07.11
Hundreds of South Sudanese in Israel marked the independence of the new country at a hall in south Tel Aviv. The celebration was tempered, however, by concern that the independence of South Sudan could change their status in Israel and that they might now be expelled. Most appear still to be afraid of returning home and are seeking to remain in Israel at least for a few months or even years, until the situation in South Sudan becomes clear.
For the moment the asylum seekers will not be returned to South Sudan, and this is not expected to change immediately until developments there are monitored for several months. Any change in status would be made by the Interior Ministry after considering the recommendations of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and even then, individuals would be given the opportunity to show their lives might be endangered by their return.
"The situation is a lot more complicated than what (Interior Minister) Eli Yishai is trying to present," said Yonatan Berman, the legal adviser to the Hotline for Migrant Workers. "They cannot all be put on planes tomorrow. A lot more investigation is required before they do that. If ultimately the investigation is carried out, there will be people who can be returned and people who can't be. When you return refugees, the first question is not whether their country of origin is prepared to accept them but whether they would be exposed to danger in their country of origin."
Berman asserted that refugees can be returned, but said it must be done in accordance with international law and individual refugees must be given the opportunity to present their personal circumstances to determine if they would be exposed to dangers on the repatriation.
South Sudanese refugee Gavriel Kavel, 28, crossed the border into Israel five years ago. He lives in Jerusalem, where he works as a cook in a hotel. "I was born in 1983, when the [Sudanese civil] war started. Fleeing, killing and refugees have been with me my whole life," he said.
He recounted that he had lost his parents and a twin brother in the fighting. "When I saw on television that South Sudan had declared independence, I couldn't believe it," he said, adding that that the new development gave him great hope.
Kavel expressed a desire to return to South Sudan, but not immediately, rather in a few years. "There has never been peace in Sudan. Nothing is developed and huge numbers of people live in poverty," he said, noting that he had to make certain it would be safe for him in South Sudan and that he could live there without fear. "I also have to make sure I won't have to flee again. It's not possible to expect the South Sudanese [in Israel] to go back at this moment."
Netanyahu: Israel recognizes South Sudan as independent state-
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Sunday Israel's official recognition of South Sudan as an independent state.
"I announce here that Israel recognizes South Sudan," Netanyahu told his cabinet in broadcast remarks. "We wish it success. It is a peace-seeking country and we would be happy to cooperate with it in order to ensure its development and prosperity."
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