Opinion

Israeli government scholarship trap: When diplomatic honesty is lost

By Charles Lotara

Israel is known as one of the world’s most reputable countries in both political and economic terms. The exhibition of diplomatic dishonesty, however, paints a different picture of Jerusalem – a city known by many as “God’s chosen”.

In 2018, the Israeli government through their Ambassador to South Sudan launched a scholarship programme called ‘Learn and Earn’, which supposedly focuses on Agriculture and Agro Business training with the aim of professional diploma award. Eighty students were sacked into the programme, and scholars were promised a payout worth 1,000 USD every month till the end of the course.

With the government scholarship, which came through the backdoor without prior knowledge to the Ministry of Higher Education, scholars got the exact opposite of things they were promised. A diploma became a certificate; the 1,000 USD got slashed to mere 50 USD.

As one of the victims narrated, students found themselves trapped in a slave-like situation where only one lecture is given in a week, with the rest of the days spent working heavily in the farm. Farm activities are directly related to the training programme, but to make students attend a single lecture while spending the rest of the days working in the farm is a clear exploitation of cheap labour.

“It all turned out to be a way to deceive and lure students from their countries and exploit them by working as donkeys while the Israelis take the money they work for every month, leaving them with 50 USD only. Students also do not receive good teaching from the college since we only have one lecture in a week and the rest of the days for working. Tell me if something of nature is not cheap labour and modern slavery?

“They also brought us spoilt laptops and forced us to buy at 1,000 USD each, yet this is the money they remove from our bank accounts, which they themselves created. We all reacted vigorously with my colleagues and refused their idea. We even refused the certificates, which had no stamps, signatures, verification codes, and index numbers.”

The students, who were mobilized by youth, left South Sudan for Israel in August 2018 for a one-year programme with high expectations of acquiring new and exceptional skills in the field of agriculture. The hopes turned into a nightmare the moment they arrived in Askhelon and Kinnerten Colleges, where South Sudanese students are isolated from Israelis during lecture periods. Heavy farm works became the order of the day.

Even more head-spinning, students are asked to pay for accommodation, transport, and feeding after 1,000 USD is withdrawn from their accounts and left with 50 USD. Is this really a scholarship or human trafficking through diplomacy?

In Israel, the government there claims not to know anything about the shadowy scholarship programme. But hold your breath, Israeli Ambassador Han Gooder is the face of his government, and whatever comes through him is the reflection of the affairs of that country. Unless this is a show of diplomatic dishonesty, Israel owes the government of this country an appropriate answer.

The South Sudanese government must also investigate how this programme came about. The Ministry of Youth, Culture and Sports facilitated the programme through a team from the youth office led by the then Chairman Dr. Albino Bol Dhieu to drive the youth, who are the future of the country, to darkness in a ‘God’s chosen land’.

“They make sure those who completed their studies are dispatched, so that they don’t tell their colleagues the real situation on the ground. We managed to escape from Askhelon College. Some of our colleagues who were taken to Kinnerten College completed, not because their situation was better, but because students are over-controlled,” the victim continued in a statement extended to Juba Monitor.

“We all found out that it was just a deal between the Israeli Ambassador and his South Sudanese counterpart Wol Mayar Areic. Students are now threatened for reporting any case of abuse.”

Those who could not cope with the ill treatment left colleges to roam the streets of Tel Aviv. Left with no choice and no one to turn to, students whose movements are restricted have no options but push through and complete the programme.

It is unfortunate that the progamme was not brought to the attention of President Salva Kiir Mayardit, who is the Head of State and government and who is said to have got to learn of the scholarship later and stopped it.

Mr. President, a group of South Sudanese have been trapped in Israel under the guise of scholarship issued by Israeli Ambassador Han Godder, it could be the right time for your competent leadership to launch an investigation into this act of human trafficking happening on the back of diplomacy; and if found to be happening, it should be stopped.

Modern slavery and human trafficking are real. What happened to these students is reminiscent of the 2017 scenario where African immigrants, mainly from the western part of the continent got trapped and fell victims of slavery in an attempt to get to Europe for greener pastures. They were sold for 400 USD each. The incident sent a shockwave across the continent and the world, prompting the interventions of leaders from different countries to save their citizens.

Slave trade in whatever form amounts to human rights violation. Normally, students verify authenticity of scholarship programmes from embassies, but if embassies become a pathway to human trafficking and hunt for cheap labour, that makes it a very unfortunate phenomenon for our youth, who are craving for education to get sponsorship outside the country.

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