Queue at a nationality office in Juba, South Sudan
Having just returned from the new nation of South Sudan where I assessed the risk of statelessness
, I am very worried about Israel's decision to arrest, jail, and deport all 1500 of that country’s "South Sudanese."
I put "South Sudanese" in quotes because nationality officers in South Sudan are currently making this very determination for thousands of people who have applied for proof of nationality. Even after submitting all necessary documentation to demonstrate a person was born in or descends from a family who lived in South Sudan, their skin color, place of origin, or other discriminatory factors may delay indefinitely recognition of citizenship.
Israel isn’t likely “returning” many people to South Sudan either, because it didn’t exist as a nation until July 2011. Instead, Israel will be deporting people to a nation in which they may have citizenship, but without any proof of it. South Sudan has issued only a few thousand South Sudanese passports since the Directorate for Nationality, Passports and Immigration opened in January 2012. The issuance of a visa can take weeks, as I found out myself while preparing for my trip in April. Today’s arrival of South Sudanese officials in Israel to oversee the processing of deportations may demonstrate cooperation, but there can be no expectation that hundreds of people will be identified as citizens of South Sudan by Sunday.
Based on my own observations at the airport in Juba, South Sudan, I expect deported Sudanese will be processed as foreigners. After exiting my flight from Entebbe, Uganda, I observed the admission of South Sudanese citizens while waiting in line to be processed as a foreigner with a visa. Every person in the citizenship line seemed to have an emergency travel document, likely issued by South Sudan's embassy in Khartoum. One woman, however, was told to move to the foreigners queue because she did not have the travel document. I spoke to her, and she actually had the coveted South Sudanese nationality ID, which meant she had undergone a much more rigorous screening process at the Directorate for Nationality in Juba. It didn’t matter. She was told she could not enter South Sudan as a citizen without a travel document or passport.
South Sudanese travel documents take months to process. If Israel deports individuals without them, they may be able to exit the plane in Juba, but that won’t provide them with the right to enter South Sudan as nationals. Without a travel visa, they may not be able to enter South Sudan at all and may instead be detained. When I was in Juba I heard credible reports of people being detained during the process of applying for nationality. After leaving Juba, leaders in the Equatorias charged publicly that members of their villages were being discriminated against and detained during and after applying for a nationality document. It is unlikely that people who arrive without any proof of nationality will fare better.
Because Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has admitted that some of the South Sudanese in Israel may be genuine refugees, they can request an asylum hearing before being deported. More than 100 arrested Sudanese (from either Sudan or South Sudan) have made this request. Whether they will be able to enter South Sudan legally, be detained on arrival as suspect, or be rendered stateless because they don’t have South Sudanese identity documents should be raised as part of their asylum claims.
June 13, 2012
| Tagged as: South Sudan, Sudan, Statelessness