South Sudanese get last-minute reprieve from deportation

On Thursday, a Jerusalem District Court judge issued a temporary injunction preventing the Ministry of Interior from revoking the group protection of South Sudanese. The move effectively delays the deportation of South Sudanese refugees, which was set to begin today.

Families, including Israeli-born children, are among those facing deportation to South Sudan. Human rights organizations say thousands of South Sudanese face expulsion; the number cited at a recent protest against the deportation was 700.

The judge, Yigal Marzel, issued the order in response to a petition filed by the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel (ASSAF), the African Refugee Development Center (ARDC), the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), the Hotline for Migrant Workers, and Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHR-Israel).

Due to the volatile situation in South Sudan, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also recommended to delay the deportations.

As I reported for the IPS last month, ethnic clashes between the Murle and Lou Nuer tribes continue in the Jonglei region of South Sudan, where fighting has claimed thousands of lives since the country gained independence from Sudan in July 2011. According to the United Nations, more than 300,000 South Sudanese were displaced due to internal violence last year.

South Sudanese also fear that fighting with Sudan could break out again. Although a peace treaty was signed in 2005, Sudan has bombed the pro-south stronghold of South Kordofan in recent months. And tensions with Sudan over South Sudan’s oil reserves remain high.

South Sudan faces additional problems: one in three children suffers from malnutrition; almost 50 percent of South Sudanese lack access to clean water.

After visiting the country in February, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos remarked, “The situation in the country is extremely precarious, and the risk of a dangerous decline is very real. Food insecurity has already increased, and 2012 will witness an earlier, and a longer, season of hunger.”

Speaking of the Jerusalem District Court’s decision and the MFA’s recommendation, Orit Marom, Advocacy Coordinator at ASSAF, remarked: “We are pleased with the court’s decision and welcome the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ recognition of the hard realities in South Sudan – that deportation at such time would be tantamount to a terrible sentence for the families and children. The South Sudanese refugees in Israel are taking a brief sigh of relief and hoping that in the coming days the Prime Minister will decide to continue granting them protection and thus spare their lives from war, violence and hunger.”

Israel is home to approximately 35,000 African asylum seekers, many of whom are Eritrean and Sudanese. Israel does not grant  them refugee status, nor will the state process their claims. The state, however, does not deport most asylum seekers, thus giving them a sort of de facto recognition.