From Prison to Prison

The story of a Sudanese Refugee Living in Israel  


Written by Adil Aldao & Harrison Lanigan-Coyte

I was born and raised in a small village in the western region of Darfur, Sudan, where continuing and enduring conflict, combined with the systematic persecution of my people, caused immense suffering. Over time the violence we endured and the culture of impunity that accompanied our suffering became intolerable. Roughly four years ago, unable to stand the situation any longer, I was forced to flea Darfur in search of safety and security. This is my story.

The Darfur conflict began in 2003 when rebel groups attacked the Sudanese government in response to the perceived oppression of black Sudanese by the majority Arab government. In response, government forces and Janjaweed militia groups began systemically attacking and persecuting innocent people in my home region of western Darfur. Acts of genocide and crimes against humanity became widespread and people continue to live in fear of persecution to this day. The continuing violence during the conflict created a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented scale. Hundreds of thousands of people were internally displaced, many have since been forced into refugee camps throughout the region and others have been forced to seek refuge further afield in places such as Egypt, Uganda, Europe and Israel.

This violence has shaped my very existence and it continues to define my ability to live an enjoyable life, which is free of persecution. In 2003 my village was attacked and destroyed by forces loyal to the government of Omar Al-Bashir. I will not go into details, as most people are now familiar with the situation and suffering in Darfur but the attack was brutal and many of my friends and family were killed. In fear of my life I was forced to flee to the city of Niyala before eventually making my way to Khartoum. I was one of the luckier ones and upon arrival in Khartoum I was able to enroll at Omdurman Islamic University where I set about starting a new life as a student of physics. For a short time things were relatively good but the fragile peace I enjoyed was not to last. The intimidation, violence and oppression that I had been subject to during the conflict followed me from Darfur to the city and throughout my studies my life continued to be defined by the conflict and the continuing persecution of the Darfuri people. While I was able to successfully complete my Bachelors the circumstances in which I did so were extremely difficult. It seems that although I was physically able to leave the conflict in Darfur the conflict was not willing to let me go. Things reached a peak in 2008 when I was arrested and indefinitely detained by the Sudanese government on suspicion of collaborating with rebel forces, a baseless accusation that resulted in no charges being brought against me. Later, during 2010, towards the end of my studies, consistent attempts were made to forcefully conscript me into the Sudanese army. The government’s intention was to send me back to Darfur as a soldier to fight my own people, and refusal to join the army would result in imprisonment or worse. Faced with the prospect of being forced to kill my own people, my friends, my family, and in fear of my life, I fled Sudan to seek asylum, safety and, ultimately, a better life.

Beginning life as a refugee, I initially traveled to Egypt before finally arriving in Israel where I have remained since September 2010. Since my arrival in Israel, the government has continually refused me my rights as a refugee as it has done with almost all African refugees living here. Despite having legal obligations set out in several international conventions on the rights of refugees, Israel has refused thousands of us our basic rights such as rights to protection, rights to medical assistance and denied us our status as refugees. In total less than 10 Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers living in Israel have been officially recognized as refugees, despite the fact that there are nearly 60,000 of us. Futhermore, Darfuri Sudanese and Eritirean asylum seekers have some of the highest rates of refugee recognition around the world. In addition to this gross violation of our human rights, in December 2013, the Israeli government began forcefully sending us to its “open” detention facility for African asylum seekers in the Negev desert, called Holot.

With the opening of the centre, thousands of African asylum seekers residing throughout Israel received subpoenas to Holot which require them to pack up their belongings, leave their jobs and say good bye to their loved ones in exchange for “voluntary” incarceration. Those who refused were often picked up by the police while walking down the streets and forced into the detention centre against their will. We have been treated as criminals and although Holot is called an “open facility”, it is anything but open and more closely resembles a prison. It is placed in a military firing zone deep in the desert, isolated from civilization, fenced-in, and operated by the Israeli prison services. Refugees living in the facility are required to report for roll call three times a day and failure to do so results in us being sent to the closed prison facility of Sahronim. It is in these conditions that I am writing this piece, under detention in Holot. I have now been in Holot for several months and I fear that I will be here for many more months, and perhaps even years, to come. We are in a desperate situation. Without international attention to our situation, and applied pressure on Israel, I fear things will only get worse.

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As a genocide survivor, the escalation of bloodshed and continual conflict in Darfur has left me with a feeling of immense sadness and mental scars that are difficult to overcome. However, these experiences have also left me with a resolve to dedicate my life to finding solutions to these complex problems. As someone who is currently imprisoned in Holot for being a refugee I am now more determined than ever to fight injustice across the world.

Sadly, my story is not unique. Thousands upon thousands of people remain in need of justice and human rights. We need to put an end to the culture of impunity and complacency that dictates responses to such injustices and human rights violations which people like me have been subjected to. Everyone in the world, whether rich or poor, has the same fundamental rights to security and to a life without fear or persecution. As long as there are crises such as those in Darfur, Iraq, Syria, South Sudan and Gaza there is work that needs to be done. The promotion of universal human rights, the implementation of international law and equal justice for all is fundamental in bringing peace to both my community and others throughout the world. This quest for justice and peace is also crucial in striving to enrich the experience of human existence, not only by striving to live without fear but to live free and full lives.

So, please, if you have a passion for human rights and believe in freedom for all people then write to your government or the United Nations and demand that Israel find a solution to our situation. We cannot live under these circumstances any longer. As refugees we have fled from prison to prison only to find ourselves in yet another prison. We want nothing more than freedom, dignity, respect and the right to live without fear or persecution. We believe it is only through international pressure that our situation can change and it is only you (the people of the world) who can bring this about. You can help by signing our petition to the United Nations now. Just follow this link

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