After most of Daher Dhudy’s family was murdered in the bloody civil war in Somalia, the teen fled with his only surviving brother on a perilous journey through Egypt, reaching safety only when they crossed the border into Israel.
“I never found any racism or discrimination” in Israel, the 27-year-old, who is black and Muslim, told a March 7 gathering at the Rutgers University student center in New Brunswick.
Dhudy spoke of an Israel where he was able to find a safe haven, work, and receive a college scholarship, earning a degree in government and diplomacy.
“If I were to go back to Somalia, I’m pretty sure I would die,” said Dhudy, a member of a minority tribe from the country’s southern region, where “it is not where you are from but who you are from.”
As many as 60,000 African refugees, most from wartorn Sudan and Eretria, have fled to Israel over the last eight years. The influx has placed a strain on resources, leading to the erection of a fence along the border with the Sinai and deportation of a small numbers in recent months. Interior Minister Eli Yishai has tried to imprison and expel some asylum seekers, prompting a fierce national debate over the Jewish state’s responsibility to non-Jewish refugees.
Dhudy was brought to Rutgers by Hillel as part of its annual push to counter “Israel apartheid week,” an annual effort by pro-Palestinian supporters on campus. Similar activities take place on campuses across the nation the first week in March.
Dhudy’s talk was funded with a grant from Hasbara Fellowships, a national pro-Israel group.
Dhudy acknowledged there were problems within the refugee community, including the inability of some to find jobs and homelessness. But, he said, “overall there has been a lot of positive stuff.”
Dhudy came to New York City at the end of September with the hope of earning a second degree and eventually returning to Somalia “to help people make a change and to make peace around the world.” He is temporarily working for a moving company.
The brothers first fled to Egypt, where they stayed for more than five years. Helped by a Catholic church, Dhudy learned English, although after five years in Israel he was never quite able to master Hebrew.
In Egypt, Dhudy said, Somalians were routinely discriminated against. He recounted an incident in which a member of his group of friends leaned against an Egyptian’s car, prompting an attack that left two dead and his brother and a friend hospitalized.
The hostile atmosphere convinced him to seek a safer refuge for himself and his brother.
“I did my research,” explained Dhudy. “I read about Israel. In Egypt all you hear are bad things about Israel.”
That research led the young refugee to realize Israelis “weren’t the bad guys.”
Faced with the prospect of Moammar Khadafi’s humanitarian abuses in Libya, a Sudan teeming with refugees desperate to escape, or remaining in Egypt, Dhudy said he chose Israel “because it was the best place to be.”
He hired Bedouin smugglers in 2007 to take them on a week-long journey to cross illegally over the border into Israel. Taken to a detention center for several hours, they were transferred to a police station and given food.
Able to obtain refugee status, Dhudy found work at a restaurant and his brother at a hotel. Israel at Heart, a nonprofit seeking to promote a better understanding of Israel and its people, provided him with a scholarship to the Interdisciplinary Center college in Herzliya through its African Refugee Scholarship program.
During that time he developed a wide circle of Jewish friends with whom he spent Jewish holidays and Shabbat, which he admitting to missing.
“I am not very religious,” said Dhudy. “I don’t pray and have never read the Koran.”