From Darfur to Eilat: Refugees' new life
About 400 Sudanese refugees who crossed border into Israel from Egypt are working in Dead Sea and Eilat hotels, while 170 of them, including 40 toddlers, live in southern Kibbutz Eilot. Due to lack of official policy on refugee problem, hotels and kibbutzim turn into improvised absorption agencies
Six months ago, Dafna Bar had no idea where Darfur was. Yet today, Bar, a member of Kibbutz Eilot, is quite familiar with it. Bar, who is in charge of the kibbutz's program for absorption of new immigrants from the former Soviet Union, is now in charge of the wellbeing of the 17 Sudanese refugees residing and working in Eilot.
"I knew nothing about Sudan, maybe just that it was in Africa, but when they arrived I immediately decided to volunteer and help with their absorption," Bar says.
The group of 17 refugees Bar works with has recently grown to 170 people. Most came to Eilot days after infiltrating into Israel from Egypt. They were sent to the kibbutz by the IDF or the border guards after they were caught crossing the border.
At the kibbutz, they met with representatives of the UN who awarded them with the official refugee status that allows them to work.
For some of the refugees, the kibbutz provided a relief after they spent extended periods of time – at times, over a year – in Israeli prisons.
Improvised absorption agency
Lately Bar works around the clock. This week she organized a bus to take all of the refugees' children to a doctor in Eilat. The Health Ministry, she says, helped as well by opening the doctors' offices especially for them. She also sent the pregnant women to have an ultrasound in the town's hospital.
"Everybody calls me 'the one with the Sudanese,'" she smiles.
Sudanes refugees in Be'er Sheva (Photo: Herzel Yosef)
About 40 children of all ages and several pregnant women are among the dozens of refugees that reside in Eilot. Due to the lack of an official policy, the kibbutz has turned into an improvised absorption agency.
The Fattal hotel chain helps as well, contributing supplies. Three times a day, the chain's vehicle delivers trays of hot meals, dairy products and diapers to the kibbutz.
"We at the kibbutz plan to host another 40 refugees. The help and good will of the kibbutz members on one hand and the unusual residents' adjustment, give great satisfaction," Bar added. "Seeing the Sudanese children happily playing is not a trivial thing. You must remember these kids came here with severe wounds and injuries after the arduous journey through the desert."
Meanwhile in Eilat
Over 300 African and Sudanese refugees are working in hotels in Eilat. They have become a part of the town's environment. Their absorption is the responsibility of the Hotline for Migrant Workers and the UN Refugee Agency in Israel. Together they worked to have the refugees released from prison and to find housing and employment for them.
"We feel that helping, especially in areas that the authorities neglect, is of the utmost importance," says Shimon Levi, VP of Human Resources at the Fattal hotel chain. "We hire the refugees to work in our hotels at the Dead Sea and provide them with housing."
Eilat Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevi announced recently that "we will not allow any unsupervised absorption of refugees."
In a letter to several ministers he wrote, "Sadly, due to demographic and other circumstances, the city of Eilat will not be able to absorb this population without proper mechanisms of supervision and control. The city deals with many issues and can not provide for its poor. Certainly it can not take upon itself the responsibility for hundreds of refugees."