Ismail Ahmad hopes to help other Darfurian refugees in Israel pick up computer training skills.”What this does is give us a feeling that we have a future,” said Ismail Ahmad, showing his freshly issued Israeli ID card.
Forty-two-year-old Ahmad is one of hundreds of Darfur refugees recently granted temporary resident status by the Israeli government.
The Darfur refugees, fleeing persecution in Sudan, entered Israel by making a perilous journey across the Egypt-Israel border. Their new status makes it legal for them to work in Israel and will enable them to obtain medical coverage.
“This is what we were waiting for, it opens up opportunities for us,” Ahmad told ISRAEL21c.
For Ahmad, who arrived in Israel with his wife Halima and four children, the future did not always look so bright.
“After we ran away from Sudan in 2002, we lived in refugee camps in Egypt where it was hard to find any work at all and whatever there was hardly paid anything,” he recalls. “There was no sense of a future for me or my family there.”
In July of last year, after reading on the Internet that Darfur refugees who reached Israel were able to advance themselves, he decided to try to get himself and his family clandestinely across the border.
After a dramatic trek across the Sinai desert, he and other families who had made the crossing were caught by Israeli soldiers. “We were happy to be caught because we knew we were in safe hands,” says Ahmad.
They were detained briefly and then released to Israeli student and volunteer organizations, which helped provide accommodation and assistance.
Today, Ahmad lives in Tel Aviv and works as a computer assistant in a video production company. His wife Halima works in a hotel. Their four children attend schools and have mastered Hebrew.
In a tour of his neighborhood near Tel Aviv’s old central bus station, Ahmad pointed out how several of his friends have used their newly attained residency status to start small businesses.
He walks by a restaurant specializing in African cuisine that one of them has opened. “Yosuf, the owner is doing well and already has three employees,” he explains. Down the street another Darfurian friend has opened a barbershop.
Ahmad, who trained as a computer engineer at courses offered by the British Council while he was living in a refugee camp in Egypt, has entrepreneurial plans of his own.
“I want to open a computer training school where I can help other members of the community pick up skills that will help them get ahead,” he says.
His plan is to rent space near the old Tel Aviv central bus station, where many of the Sudanese and Eritean refugees live, and to offer evening classes to his fellow refugees. He hopes to get a government loan to cover the rent and expenses and to pay back the loan by charging for classes.
He has already begun to look for office space and is applying for a loan to get started.
Back at home, he has already put his skills to good use. In the living room of his apartment, Ahmad has taken three discarded computers and by connecting parts from each of them created two fully functioning computers. The computers are both hooked up to the Internet and used by the family.