{83F4524E-193C-4A4C-94AA-FB7CD4576BCF} Jewish Agency Update Issue 17 (July 15, 2007)
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Jewish Agency Report From Israel
Jewish Agency Steps In to Care for Sudanese Refugees

The Jewish Agency for Israel is temporarily housing 58 refugees from Sudan, many of them from the Darfur area, at the special request of the Prime Minister’s Office. The group, which crossed into Israel through the Sinai, arrived at the Jewish Agency's Friedmann Student Village Ibim at 1:00 a.m. Monday morning (June 11), where they are receiving housing, food and medical care.

Refugees from Sudan who made their way to Egypt recently crossed into Israel via the Sinai border. A group of 58 refugees, including 24 children, walked over 50 miles in the glaring sun to Beersheva. At the request of the Prime Minister's office, the Jewish Agency immediately gave temporary shelter to these refugees, many of them from Darfur, in its Friedmann Student Village Ibim, near Sderot. They were greeted by the Jewish Agency's staff, who hurriedly prepared the student apartments for them.

"We mobilized quickly and have been working around the clock to help these people," says Ibim Director Soni Singer.

"This is a humanitarian gesture to people in distress that we are very proud of," said Jewish Agency Chairman of the Executive Zeev Bielski, explaining the Agency’s role in providing the assistance.

Upon their arrival, the refugees were briefed on what to do when they heard a siren warning them of an impending Kassam rocket attack. "There is one young refugee, Steven, who speaks English and interprets for the group into Sudanese Arabic. But for the most part we speak with our hands and our hearts, and we all understand each other," says Soni. When the warning siren sounded, the staff helped the refugees run for shelter as they were instructed.

All of the refugees' food and shelter needs are being provided for. In addition, the six staff members bought diapers and food for the babies, toiletries and towels, and sweets for the children. "We are a student village, and luckily the new immigrant students who live here are on vacation so we have room. But caring for families is very different than seeing to the needs of students," explains Soni. 

 Two new immigrant students studying at nearby Sapir College, Mulo from Ethiopia and Robert from the former Soviet Union, keep the children busy at the playroom that has been set up in an empty classroom. "They are volunteering their time, and their energy is amazing," explains Soni. There are 24 children under the age of 18. From 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Mulo and Robert teach the younger ones songs, play games and do arts and crafts activities. Some of the young teenagers made drawings depicting Sudan and Israel with their accompanying national flags.

"It is beautiful to see the outpouring of help from the people of Sderot and the surrounding communities," says Soni. "They bring toys and blankets and games. These are people who are going through their own trying times and yet they can still reach out to strangers in distress."

On Wednesday, doctors from the Doctors without Borders organization came to Ibim with medical students from Tel Aviv University to check the refugees. "Everyone got a clean bill of health, including two pregnant women," says Soni. Representatives from the Ministry of Health also gave the babies standard inoculations.

Just as quickly as the refugees were taken in, the Jewish Agency began working with the Israeli Committee for Darfur Refugees on health, employment and legal issues. Together they arranged for the 11 young single men in the group to receive work permits. In a matter of hours they were given temporary work in agriculture. "These people want to work," says Soni. "It warms the heart to see how amazingly calm and disciplined they are despite their situation. We feel privileged to be able to help them." 

Photo Credit: Tzafrir Abayov / Israel Sun
Click here for print quality photos. (zip file)


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