The Jewish Agency for Israel, one of the primary overseas agencies of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, is temporarily housing 58 refugees from Sudan, many of them apparently from the Darfur area, at the special request of the Prime Minister’s Office. The group, which had crossed into Israel through the Sinai, arrived early on June 11 at the Jewish Agency Ibim Absorption center located near Sderot, where they are receiving housing, food and medical care.
Refugees from Sudan who make their way to Egypt try to cross into Israel along the Sinai border. This group, which includes 24 children, made their way by foot from Sinai across the border and then to Beersheva. From Beersheva, they were bussed to Jerusalem.
“In the evening hours of Sunday, I received an urgent request from the Prime Minister's office to help a group of refugees who were left stranded in a public park in Jerusalem,” recalls Jewish Agency Chairman Zeev Bielski, explaining the Agency’s role in providing the assistance. “I knew that we had to enlist immediately, for humanitarian reasons and out of a sense of identity with the travails of the refugees, and provide them with shelter and a sense of security.”
Soni Zinger, the director of the Ibim Absorption Center, says that there has been a flood of donations by Israelis of clothes and toys over the last several days since the refugees arrived. In addition to services offered by Israel Ministry of Health to the refugees, the group was visited by Doctors without Borders, and all were reported in good condition despite days of walking. “The children are having a great time – within a short time they were all playing on the grass,” Zinger said, adding that absorption center counselors have regular daily activities for the children. In coordination with the Committee on Behalf of the Darfur Refugees in Israel, the men are being provided employment in agricultural work at agricultural communities in the area.
The group is expected to stay at the Jewish Agency center for about 10 days until the government of Israel determines the next steps. The Ibim Absorption Center generally serves Russian and Ethiopian student immigrants who are currently away on summer break.
“It’s happy and sad,” Zinger said, “Happy because they are here and being looked after and enjoying themselves; sad, because their future is uncertain.”
Update concerning the Darfur refugees
Many of you throughout the world and in Israel are aware of the bloody war which has been taking place for some time in the Sudan. This is a war which has claimed hundreds of thousands of victims and spawned a vast number of refugees, particularly in the Darfur region.
In recent weeks since hundreds of refugees from Sudan have crossed the Egyptian border, after an arduous journey on foot, and have entered the areas of the State of Israel, we have been exposed to the terrible tragedy and by force of events have become parties to finding a solution to the problem of the refugees who have arrived in Israel.
In the evening hours of Sunday, I received an urgent request from the Prime Minister's office to help and assist a group of refugees who were left stranded without anything in a public park in Jerusalem. We responded immediately to the request and within hours we geared up for the absorption of dozens of refugees at the Ibim Youth Village near the town of Sderot, in order to provide them with refuge and shelter. From the very first moment, I had no doubts that as sons of the Jewish people, a people which has experienced persecution, expulsion and exile, and which during the Holocaust enjoyed no support and received no offers of protection and asylum, we could not stand aside and witness the plight of the refugees, bereft of home and homeland, and who are in mortal danger in their country. I knew that we had to enlist immediately, for humanitarian reasons and out of a sense of identity with the travails of the refugees, and provide them with shelter and a sense of security.
The 58 refugees, whom we absorbed in Ibim, encountered the devoted staff of the youth village upon their arrival. The staff organized itself expeditiously and efficiently and placed itself at the ready to assist the refugees in entering the housing units. During the academic year these units house young immigrants who participate in the many programs of the Jewish Agency but during this time, due to the summer vacation were vacant.
With the aid of a 23-year-old Sudanese refugee who speaks English, and became a translator and liaison between the village staff and the refugees, those absorbed were briefed on life's routine in the region including rules of conduct in emergency situations dictated by the firing of Qassam missiles. We had to put in a great deal of effort to explain to them the unique situation which the region's residents have been subjected to in the last seven years.
Amongst members of the group, there are 24 children and youths under the age of 18, two pregnant women, and 11 young men, all under the age of 42. Therefore our first concern, aside from providing food and basic commodities such as diapers, baby food, mineral water, elementary equipment for babies, and candies, was how to occupy the children. Two students from Ibim, Mulo from Ethiopia and Robert from the Caucasus in the FSU, enlisted in this task immediately and are occupying the children with games, songs and creative artistic activity.
Contributions of clothes and toys on behalf of the refugees, flowed from the very outset from Sderot and regional communities as well as from Sapir College which is adjacent to our youth Village and which itself is contending with difficulties in registering students for the upcoming academic year due to the threat of the Qassams.
The Health Ministry and doctors from the "Medecins sans Frontieres" organization with the help of volunteer students conducted medical examinations on the refugees and immunized the babies and children with inoculations which are customary in the Western world's and are obligatory in Israel.
With the collaboration of the "Committee on Behalf of the Darfur Refugees in Israel" the young men were provided employment in agricultural work within the region's communities, to enable them to make a decent living.
On behalf of all my colleagues in the Jewish agency I would like to express my pride and congratulate ourselves that we had the privilege to lend a helping hand to refugees who had lost everything and provided them with a sense of security and protection. As one of the refugees put it aptly "on our way here, our Muslim brothers trained their weapons at me and here in Israel, you the Jews are stretching out your hand".
This is an opportunity for me to thank all the workers of the Jewish Agency, who took part in this operation and first and foremost the Director General Mr. Moshe Vigdor, the Director of the Absorption Unit in the Aliyah Department, Mr. Zalman Perlmuter, to the Director of the Ibim Youth Village, Ms. Sony Singer and the wonderful staff at her side.
This is one of the finest hours of the State of Israel and the Jewish Agency. This is one of the finest hours of the Jewish People, for whom the values of mercy, charity and compassion will always be central in their life.