Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel are worried they will be kicked out once the normalisation agreement between the two countries is signed, though some hope their presence will be seen as an advantage.
Technically at war with Israel for decades, Sudan, last Friday, became the third Arab country this year to announce it is normalising ties with Israel, following the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
While the agreement still needs approval from Sudan’s yet-to-be formed legislative council, it was not welcomed by Sudanese political parties.
Sudan’s former Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi slammed the announcement, also opposed by the Sudanese Baath Party and the Popular Congress Party which said the country’s transitional government is not elected and therefore not authorised to normalise relations with Israel.
Last week, dozens of Sudanese demonstrated in the capital Khartoum chanting “no peace, no negotiation, no reconciliation with the occupying entity”.
Sudan’s yet-to-be-formed council still needs to be established under a power-sharing deal between military officers and civilians, who have been running Sudan jointly since the overthrow of Omar al-Bashir in 2019.
In Israel, the announcement was welcomed with mixed feelings among members of the Sudanese community who have been “very afraid” of being sent back, 26-year-old Barik Saleh, a Sudanese asylum seeker who lives in a suburb of Tel Aviv, was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.
Israel says nearly 6,000 Sudanese live in the country, most of them asylum seekers who are not always allowed to work and cannot take up Israeli citizenship.
Saleh, who grew up in West Darfur, was nine years old when his family fled the war to neighbouring Chad.
“My parents are in a refugee camp,” said Saleh, who arrived in Israel after transiting through Libya and Egypt, and has lived in Israel for 13 years.
“I will be the first one for normalisation. But if I will be deported, then I will be in 100 percent danger.”
In Neve Shaanan, a suburb of Tel Aviv known for its asylum-seeker community, stalls and restaurants offer Sudanese food, including a version of the popular bean dish “foul”, served with grated cheese.
Usumain Baraka, a 26-year-old who works nearby, has finished a master’s degree in public policy at a university in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv.
He too was nine when he fled Darfur for Chad, where his mother still lives in a refugee camp.
“They [armed fighters] killed my father and my elder brother, and they took everything we had in the village,” Baraka said.
“At one point I had two options: go back to Darfur to fight for a rebel group, or leave the camp and try to have a normal life.”
While the young men AFP spoke to expressed fear their presence in Israel would be at risk under the normalisation agreement, some said they would like the Jewish state to see them as assets rather than a burden.
Former President al-Bashir oversaw Sudan’s civil war in the Darfur region from 2003.
Some 300,000 people died in the conflict and 2.5 million were forced from their homes.
“We are here because it is not safe to go back to Sudan yet,” said 31-year-old Monim Haroon, adding that the Sudanese in Israel could be a “bridge” between the countries.
Sudan and Israel have said in recent days that migration would be one of the issues on the agenda during upcoming meetings on bilateral cooperation.
But Jean-Marc Liling, an Israeli lawyer specialised in asylum issues, warned that with the normalisation announcement, the return of Sudanese asylum seekers would likely be on the government’s radar.
“The first thing that comes to the government’s mind is: we’ll be able to send back the ‘infiltrators’,” Liling said.