african refugees in tel aviv

one of my volunteering placements has and will involve meeting with refugees from sudan, eritrea, and other african countries who have made their way into israel. their journeys through the egyptian desert are very difficult, needing to avoid mistreatment from the bedouins sneaking them through the desert, and the egyptians soldiers who often shoot to kill. once over or under the fence, they wait to be picked up by israeli soldiers, who often imprison them for a while. once released from prison, granted temporary refugee status, they're then "free" to live in the slums of south tel aviv.

i haven't taken pictures yet of the dire poverty that we've been seeing - but this photo album/slideshow on flickr gives you a sense of the living conditions. among other emotions, it brings up images of the devastation that i saw in new orleans after katrina.

this recent article from the jerusalem post, which is a heartbreaking read, tells the story of mulu, a shelter resident who i met last week:
In the south Tel Aviv hostel run by the African Refugees Development Center, there is one survivor's story after another.

On one of the bunk beds sits a pretty, pregnant Eritrean woman, Mulu Brahan. Her two barefoot sons, Natnael, nine, and Johannes, five, are playing on the other beds. Her daughter, Melat, 11, moves in and out of the room without a word.

Mulu, 31, made the journey here with Johannes a few months ago. Her husband, Michael Tustaselassie, 39, set out a few weeks later with the two older children.

He didn't make it.

"They were in the Sahara Desert for 50 days," says Mulu. "The Beduin kept the children with them in the front of the pickup truck, and they packed all the adults in the back. There wasn't nearly enough water for everyone, and they kept the water containers in the back, away from the children. They put a little gasoline in the water so people wouldn't be able to drink too much and it wouldn't run out so fast."

Along the way the smugglers would stop to rest or search for water, which isn't easy to find in the Sahara. "Whenever the stopped and people got out, Michael would take water from the containers when no one was looking and give it to Natnael and Melat," continues their mother.

Along the way Michael became ill. He stopped eating. On the last leg of the journey, when the smugglers let the refugees out of the truck to make the rest of the way on foot, Michael gave his son and daughter a container of water he'd hidden. He told them to go on ahead. "He died somewhere in the sand," says Mulu.

Melat and Natnael kept walking with the other refugees, and when they got near the border, the Egyptian guards began shooting. The brother and sister hid in the sand for three hours. When the shooting stopped and the troops were gone, they ran to the border fence, climbed over and soon were picked up by Israeli soldiers. Later they were reunited with their mother.

Says Mulu: "they saw their father die."

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