Abraham Alu, a 35-year-old South Sudanese is one of roughly 60,000 African asylum seekers in Israel. He lives in south Tel Aviv where rents are cheap, does odd jobs and scrapes by, but feels constantly threatened.
Recently, he narrowly escaped attack by a group of Jewish protesters in the city who had smashed African-owned shops and beaten up Africans. A policeman pointed to the Jewish protesters heading in his direction and said, “Run, they’ll murder you! Run!”. Alu said:
“I feel afraid even right now. I face constant harassment from Jewish Israeli residents of the neighbourhood.
“They come here and say: ‘What are you doing here? This is our country, go home; go back to [South Sudan]. I left [southern] Sudan when I was small because of the war and here, right now, I am still in a war.
“When I was seven, I saw both my mother and father murdered by militiamen. I fled the village alone. To this day, I do not know what happened to my brothers. Twenty eight years later, I continue to search, asking other refugees if they have met or heard anything about them.
“I eventually ended up in Egypt. There, asylum seekers could not work legally. In Cairo, I joined a sit-in outside the UN High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR] to protest against the conditions African asylum seekers face in Egypt. The 3,000 demonstrators who camped out for three months in late 2005 asked UNHCR to help them move to other countries.
“On 30 December 2005, some 4,000 Egyptian policemen stormed the protest camp. They fired water cannons into the crowd, which included women and children, and beat demonstrators with batons. More than 20 Africans were killed, including a four-year-old girl. The Egyptian Interior Ministry said a stampede was to blame for the deaths, though media reports cast doubt on that claim.
“Fearing for my life, I fled to Israel. I had heard that the journey through Sinai was dangerous, so I left my wife, a two-and-half-year-old daughter and infant son behind. I would send for them once I settled somewhere and the situation was stable.
“After crossing into Israel in early 2006, I was held in prison for a year. I have been living in south Tel Aviv since I was released.
“Now we have to move [from Israel]… but there’s nowhere to go.
“I want to go home and help build South Sudan, which has been independent for less than a year, but I don’t feel it is safe to return. It is a small country and there is fighting.
“Where is my future? Where is my future? This is my future?
“I want to be somebody who will do something for [South Sudan] but when I go back, I [will] have no money, no education, no nothing [to contribute to building the state]. Just me and myself, me and the few clothes I will put in a plastic bag.
“Asylum seekers don’t want to be rich. No, we are [humble] people. We just want something to eat, we want to sleep well, to feel secure – that is it.”