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Sudanese Refugees Risk Death to Escape From Egypt to Israel


According to the United Nations, there are more than 15,000 Sudanese refugees in Egypt. The numbers continue to grow with many using Egypt as a transit point to escape to other nations. From the VOA Middle East bureau in Cairo, Aya Batrawy speaks to one Darfurian man determined to cross the dangerous Egyptian-Israeli border in hopes of a better life.

Twenty-one year old Galoud began his search for a stable life after his parents were killed in Darfur. It was not long after their deaths that Galoud began the journey that would eventually end in Tel Aviv.

In an interview recorded before he finally made the dangerous crossing, Galoud told VOA that when he left Darfur he basically left the hell of death and entered the hell of life. For him it was not a matter of getting caught trying to enter Israel from the Egyptian border, it was about getting there safely. If he was shot or killed at the border, he says, that would be what God wanted, it would be his destiny.

His story is common for thousands of Darfurian refugees. Fleeing his torched village in Darfur, Galoud made his way to Khartoum and then left his native country, hoping for a safer and more economically promising life in neighboring Egypt. After three years in Cairo, he lost any hope of living a good life there.

Galoud lived on the outskirts of the Egyptian capital among other Darfurian refugees in an area far removed from the bustling streets of the metropolis, in lower-class apartment complexes near factories. He said the only work he could find was rummaging through trash.

He says he came to Egypt looking for work and spent his days looking through trash, digging two-meters underground near factories in an area called Tora Bora, hoping to find scrap metal and other debris to sell.

According to a Sudanese political science professor at the American University in Cairo, Ibrahim El Nour, many of these war-driven migrants have lost everything, but still want to pursue a better life and Egypt is not their first choice.

"Egypt is not a migration destination. Egypt is a transit migration destination for many of these African migrants. They come here because they have the hope of going somewhere in the global north," he said.

Galoud and most of the other Darfurian refugees say their dream is to return to Darfur one day, if there is peace and stability.

El Nour says Sudan has a responsibility towards these refugees.

"The Sudanese government should take responsibility towards them, return them to their places and secure good living conditions for them. It is the responsibility of the national government," he added.

But so long as the crisis in Darfur continues, refugees from there will continue to flock to Egypt, even if temporarily. It is the U.N. refugee agency in Cairo that is responsible for refugees like Galoud, but many complain it has done little to help.

Abeer Etefa of the UNHCR in Cairo says the problem is not with the U.N. office, but the overall employment rate in Egypt. With a population of more than 70 million, the country simply cannot absorb all of these refugees, she explained.

"Egypt has an unemployment problem of 20 percent, so the problems that many refugees from Sudan face in Egypt are the same types of problems that also Egyptians are facing. We recognize that it is difficult for many people to find job opportunities, but many have made it," she said. "Many have been able to find job opportunities and integrate."

For Galoud, the main problem is that he did not earn a decent living in Cairo and he could not return to Darfur because of the violence.

He says he used to weigh 62 kilograms but his weight has dropped to 52 kilograms because of exhaustion from hard work. Galoud says all he wants is job security.

Many refugees are willing to cross the border into Israel and pay smugglers $400, even if it means risking being killed at the border. With more than 300 people trying to illegally enter Israel every week, Israel has put pressure on Egypt to stem the flow of migrants. Border guards have shot and killed at least 10 people this year.

Another Darfurian refugee living in Cairo, who asked to be called Mohandis, was caught attempting to cross into Israel.

He said Egyptian police arrested him and 17 others in the city of Ismaelia. Mohandis said that if he had the money again, he would risk the trip once more.

Even if they make it, their future is uncertain. Israel has given some refugee status and allowed them to stay, while others are deemed economic migrants and sent back.

For Galoud, the risk was worth it. A friend in Israel wired him $400 to pay a smuggler. A week later, Galoud called from the border to say that he and 12 other African migrants from Ghana, Ivory Coast, Sudan and Eritrea made it safely to Israel, and had begun the next part of his journey, the start a new life.

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