Some 120 South Sudan immigrants deported from Israel landed Monday in the South Sudan capital Juba, with several saying they had come under pressure to leave and had been insulted.
The Israeli government announced the departure of the first charter flight on Sunday and said it would be carrying some 120 “illegal immigrants” who had agreed to be “voluntarily repatriated” back to South Sudan.
Those deported in the first wave of expulsions of tens of thousands of Africans were given around 1,000 euros ($1,250) per adult and 400 euros per child.
“They were telling us we have AIDS and that we are a disease. They were telling us a lot of bad things”, said 30-year-old Mayuol Juac, who worked as a waiter in Eilat and Tel Aviv for five years.
“They say we are a disease, the cancer of Israel,” Bol Duop, 25, who also worked in the hospitality sector for five years told AFP.
After being arrested three months ago and thrown in jail for a day on suspicion of being illegal, Juac had his visa confiscated and came under increasing pressure to leave.
“They took it from me and they said: ‘You have just one week to leave, one week to leave the country!'”
“Those without papers they arrest them and put them in jail until their deportation. Then it is jail to the airport to Juba,” Juac said.
However South Sudan’s Minister of Humanitarian Affairs Joseph Lual Achuil insisted, “People are not being deported”.
“We have agreed with the Israeli government for our people to be peacefully and voluntarily repatriated,” he told reporters at Juba airport on Monday.
South Sudan maintains good relations with Israel.
The links date back to the decades of civil war that pitted the South against the Khartoum government, dominated by Arab Muslims. South Sudan, peopled mainly by black Christians, proclaimed independence on July 9.
The deportees, who were interviewed before leaving Israel by representatives of South Sudan who wanted to check their nationality, for the most part said they were happy to be back home, even those who said they had been forcibly returned.
“Now I am happy I come back to my country. I see of course the country needs a lot of work. I don’t see any progress , but we are to make the progress,” Juac said. “We took independence to stay in it, not run away from it.”
Bol Duop for his part is, for the first time in 15 years, heading back to his hometown of Akobo, in a far-flung corner of Jonglei, a state that was hit by a string of tit-for-tat cattle raids that left hundreds dead earlier this year.
“Now I come back, and I know nothing about Jonglei, nothing about Akobo. I heard about all the problems there, but I’ll try it,” he said.
Israel’s interior ministry estimates there are more than 60,000 African immigrants — mainly from Sudan, South Sudan and Eritrea — in the country illegally. In May a protest against African immigrants degenerated into violence in the southern districts of Tel Aviv.