In a recent research forum our students had the opportunity to hear from Taj Haroun who was born in Darfur, Sudan and escaped the genocide there by fleeing first to Egypt and then Israel. Haroun is residing in Tel Aviv as an Asylum seeker. While in Israel he has completed his Political Science undergraduate degree at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC), where he specialized in counterterrorism and conflict resolution. He is currently studying in a Master’s program in Political science and communication at Tel Aviv University. For the past Eight years he has been actively leading the Darfuri refugee community in Israel, either by figuring on the board of refugee led Community Based Organizations such as Bnai Darfur, or by working for or with NGOs such as ASSAF, the ARDC and Amnesty International.
Haroun began his story by sharing that he lived with his family in a beautiful village before the start of the war in 2003 between the government and the rebel groups. According to Haroun the region was intentionally neglected by the government and the rebel groups were fighting for what the region deserved. The government supported the Arab Janjaweed militias in the conflict and authorized them to attack villages of ethnic Africans and engage in systematic killing. Haroun’s family received a warning that their village would be attacked the day before the Janjaweed arrived. They were unable to protect the village and fled to a camp. Haroun’s stepmother was badly burned by the Janjaweed.
There was a fear that the Janjaweed would kidnap young men from the camp and enslave them so at his mother’s urging Haroun fled to the capital of Khartoum to stay with his Aunt in late 2004. Haroun and his family were hopeful that the war would be over in a few months and he could return to his family at that time. They had no idea that 13 years later the war would still be going on. In Khartoum Haroun worked with a group of Dafuri students to raise international awareness about the dire situation in Darfur. Haroun was arrested twice and detained over night. During the first detainment Haroun was brutally tortured. After the second arrest Haroun decided to leave Khartoun in order to avoid a third arrest. In 2007 Haroun fled to Cairo. Haroun’s dream was to return to school but when his Egyptian visa was about to expire he was afraid that if he tried to renew it he would be sent back to Sudan. After hearing that Israel was a safe haven for refugees he made up his mind to go there. Haroun left Cairo in winter 2008 and was taken to the Israeli border by Bedouin smugglers. He managed to make it across the border without getting shot, where he was met by the Israeli army who provided them with apples and water before dropping them off in Be’er Sheva the next day.
Haroun is here in Israel as a guest because he can’t live at home due to the conflict. Haroun stated that he prays to be able to go home. His family is still living in a refugee camp and is eager for his return. Although Haroun is physically safe in Israel his struggle is not over and he continues to face many challenges, the greatest of which is his precarious status. The Israeli government purposely has no clear policy regarding the Sudanese refugees – Israel refuses to make a decision about their status or to let the UN deal with the issue. Haroun needs to renew his visa every 2 months and he is constantly afraid of being unable to renew it. Furthermore, it is unclear whether he is permitted to work with his temporary visa. The lack of certainty about their future has created a huge psychological strain on the entire Sudanese refugee community, which has led to social problems due to their inability to plan for the future. Certain government ministers have called the refugees a cancer in the body of the Jewish people and have engaged in deliberate fear mongering to turn Israelis against the refugees and make their lives so difficult they will voluntarily leave. However, if they go back to Sudan they will be imprisoned, and likely killed on the way. Haroun is in a mater’s program but he said that only 4 in 10,000 refugees are getting an education. Most are in low paying service jobs where they are unable to plan for their future or work towards ending the conflict at home due to the precarious nature of their struggle for survival in Israel.
Haroun emphasized that anyone who sees war as a positive has never suffered from it. Haroun doesn’t expect the UN or the superpowers to do anything to solve the conflict in Sudan, as it is not in their interest. When asked what our students can do to help Haroun responded that the status issue is the most difficult, and anything our students could do to encourage the Israeli government to grant the refugees asylum status would be most helpful. It was a privilege for our Holocaust Studies MA students to hear from a survivor of the genocide in Darfur, a conflict that remains unresolved, and to consider their moral responsibility in aiding survivors of that current genocide.
We are thrilled to share video of his visit with you here.
Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program? You can find the application and more information at our website: http://holocaust-studies.haifa.ac.il/