For almost 10 years, Monim Haroon has only known one home: Israel. Like thousands of Sudanese immigrants, he lives and works without legal status, fearing that returning to his homeland will be a death sentence.
The normalization of Israel’s ties with Sudan, announced last year, had raised fears among migrants that they would lose their migrant status and be forced to return. Now, weeks after a military coup derailed Sudan’s transition to democracy, they fear being forcibly returned to a country under the full control of generals blamed for past atrocities.
“I am not against normalization,” Haroon said. “But normalization should be through the Sudanese civilian government, not the military powers that now control Sudan.”
The plight of asylum seekers points to one of the less palatable aspects of the so-called Abraham Accords, a series of agreements reached between Israel and four Arab countries last year. The agreements negotiated by the United States with Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, widely hailed as a breakthrough in Middle East diplomacy, were reached by unelected Arab leaders with little tolerance for dissent who were generously rewarded. by the Trump administration.
Sudan’s military leaders, the driving force behind the deal, successfully removed the country from the list of US terrorism sponsors, unlocking vital international trade and aid.
But last month, Sudan’s top military leader, General Abdel-Fattah Burhan, dissolved the transitional government and ordered the arrest of civilian leaders, nullifying hopes for a democratic transition after the 2019 ouster of autocrat Omar al-Bashir. .
The coup, which has been condemned by the United States and other Western nations, has left Israel in a potentially uncomfortable situation.
Israel has been silent on the coup and its aftermath, indicating that it intends to maintain normalized ties. A report on the Israeli news site Walla that an Israeli delegation had secretly visited Sudan to meet with coup leaders deepened fears among migrants that they might soon be deported. Israel’s Foreign Ministry and Sudanese officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Sudanese and Eritrean migrants began arriving in Israel in 2005, and many of the Sudanese fled persecution in western Darfur and the south of the country. Seeking safety and opportunity in Israel, they made often dangerous journeys through Egypt’s rugged Sinai Peninsula.
Israel initially did little to stop the influx, but as more migrants arrived, authorities began detaining thousands in remote desert prisons. And in 2013, Israel completed construction of a fenced barrier along its border with Egypt that mostly stopped migration.
The presence of the migrants has sparked a backlash among many Israelis who associate them with crime and poverty in southern Tel Aviv, where most of them settled. Right-wing governments in recent years have made various attempts to oust them.
Ayelet Shaked, a prominent right-wing politician, has described Sudanese immigrants as “infiltrators” and said they should be sent back as ties have normalized. She is now the interior minister in Israel’s new government, a position that oversees immigration policies.
“We are concerned because she has always been against asylum seekers,” Haroon said.
The Interior Ministry said the situation for Sudanese immigrants has not changed after the coup, but declined to answer further questions.
Israel has resolved only a small fraction of the thousands of asylum applications from Eritrea and Sudan, considering that the vast majority are economic migrants. Under international law, Israel cannot deport migrants back to countries where their lives or basic freedoms are seriously threatened.
Sudan’s jailed former president, al-Bashir, was charged with genocide by the International Criminal Court for mass killings that took place in Darfur during the 2000s. The region remains unstable, and deadly tribal clashes remain common. Since the October coup, at least 23 Sudanese protesters have been killed in clashes between pro-democracy protesters and military forces.
“Although Israel does not send migrants back, back-to-back decrees have purposely made life unbearable for African refugees,” said Sigal Rozen, director of public policy for the Israeli Refugee and Migrants Hotline, an advocacy group that helps Africans.
Most of the estimated 28,000 Sudanese and Eritrean migrants have menial jobs and are struggling to make ends meet. Their numbers have been halved since the 2000s, and most travel to third countries, considering it unsafe to return home.
In 2012, Israel ordered the deportation of more than 1,000 migrants back to South Sudan after gaining independence, arguing that it was safe for them to return home. Those who voluntarily returned received a cash incentive of approximately $ 1,000. The move was criticized by human rights groups after South Sudan’s descent into civil war in 2013.
Caught in Israeli legislative limbo, most African immigrants do not have basic social rights, such as sick pay and driver’s licenses, and are also subject to financial sanctions. Among the most controversial was the “Deposit Law”, which limited asylum seekers to access only 80% of their wages while in Israel. The law, which returned the rest of their wages to them only if they left the country, was later repealed in 2020.
In April, Israel’s Supreme Court ordered the Interior Ministry to resolve thousands of unanswered Sudanese asylum applications before the end of the year or grant them temporary residence.
Sudan was notably absent from the Abrahamic Accords anniversary commemorations earlier this fall. While Israel and the other three nations announced high-level visits and opened embassies, there has been little on the Sudanese front beyond a surprise meeting between Israeli and Sudanese officials in the UAE weeks before the coup. Sudan also said in September that it would seize the assets of companies linked to Hamas, the Palestinian terror group that rules Gaza.
Haim Koren, a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt and South Sudan, attributed the delays to concerns by Sudanese officials about whether Israel’s new government and the Biden administration would deliver on promises in the normalization agreement. Both have expressed strong support for the deepening and expansion of the Abrahamic Accords.
“There are areas that still require negotiation, but I hope that full relationships will be established,” Koren said. “Maybe not today, but it will happen.”