Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel

ASSAF's Decade Anniversary

In August and September 2017 we marked a decade of the foundation of ASSAF organization - a decade of aid to refugees in Israel, through a special Facebook campaign. On our campaign honoring the 10th anniversary, we presented the public with a few landmarks from our broad and significant works carried out through the years.

 

Family Escorting Project

For the past decade ASSAF has been one of the main supports for families, youth and children seeking asylum in Israel. We give them aid and fight for their rights. 

Escorting refugee families was one of our first activities at ASSAF. They just arrived in Israel and had to orient themselves and build a new life in a new reality. They faced the social, economic and bureaucratic difficulties of forced immigration into a country that was unwilling to accept them as refugees and added more hardship to their life.

Our family project brought people together in the deepest sense of the word. The Israelis taking part in it continued to volunteer for years with great dedication. Strong ties were formed between them and the families from Sudan and Eritrea. We were there to help mothers, fathers and their children in the daily grind, communicating with landlords, employers, schools and the authorities. From time to time we went on tours and field trips together, giving parents and children a short relief and a feeling of stability.

Photo: Sharon Livne of the escorting team, and her partner, with Wani family from South Sudan, on a trip to the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo.

Human Rights March, 2010

Demonstrations, marches and protests in the public sphere have been an inseparable part of the struggle of asylum seekers in Israel. Time after time, they took to the streets, and we were there with them, demanding freedom, security and recognition of their refugee status.

A range of civil society organizations, as well as thousands of people, participated in the Human Rights March of 2010. Asylum seekers spoke out, protested, and took an active part in the event. We were there in solidarity with them and with everyone else who demanded human rights in Israel. It was a display of partnership and collaboration, a joint call for justice, dignity and implementation of human rights for every man and woman in our country.

Photo: refugees protesting during Human Rights March, holding ASSAF's sign: "I did not choose to become a refugee". Photographer: Vladi Espinoza.

The deportation to South Sudan

Since South Sudan became an independent state in 2011, the Israeli Government did everything in its power to legalize the deportation from Israel of the South Sudanese community. We followed the situation in South Sudan with diligence and great concern. We knew the country was still unsafe. That the economic, political and security situation there was disastrous, and that forced deportation would be a destructive measure. We repeatedly alerted the authorities to the situation, we wrote and protested against the deportation, but the government was eager to send there the “terrible threat” - less than 1,000 people, mostly families with children.

These people, who lived in Israel for many years, received an extremely short notice, and on 17 June 2012 the first deportation flight took off. More followed afterwards. The immigration police raided the homes of South Sudanese, took parents and children into custody to make sure they will not stay here, and to remind them how unwelcome they were, despite their enthusiastic support for Israel.

ASSAF personnel and volunteers worked with South Sudanese families ever since they came to Israel. This time we had to assist them in any possible way to prepare for leaving the country, and for and the dangerous reality awaiting them. There was almost no time to take a breath and process what was happening. It was a painful parting. For us, the wound is still open and bleeding.

The struggle for asylum seekers from South Sudan was hopeless. But we are not giving up. We continue to fight against cruel and unjust deportation threats against people who live here and are entitled for protection.

Photo: a South Sudanese girl waiting for the bus that will take her to the deportation flight. Photo credit: Activstills.

Struggle against imprisonment

For the past 10 years, we have been pursuing the right of refugees to enjoy freedom and respect. We reject and fight against the view of refugees as criminals.

The Israeli government has been imprisoning innocent people, who arrived here asking for asylum and protection, in order to make their lives miserable. This is a horrific and immoral policy. The cruel Prevention of Infiltration Law created the Holot detention facility in the South of Israel, on which hundreds of millions of Shekels from public funds are wasted, in order to jail people who committed no crime. They are imprisoned in the desert, under terrible conditions. Detention in Holot tears away refugees who went through enough horror and trauma from their daily lives and recovery efforts. It is painful to think of the refugees who broke down under this regime, and that agreed to “willing deportation”, which puts their lives at danger.

Throughout the years, ASSAF, together with other organizations, have filed legal appeals against the law that imprisons innocent people. We initiated and participated in public struggles that included large demonstrations, tours to the detention camps, direct appeals to public figures and civic society campaigns.

The battle is ongoing. We constantly argue that there are other choices, that jail is not a solution, and that the government’s policy of coaxing “willing deportation” is inhuman.

Photo: Social activist Jacob from Darfur in a tour to the detention camp, with a sign which says “Nightmare in the South”.

Our work with Government Ministries and Members of Knesset

Since ASSAF’s foundation a decade ago, we have focused on direct aids to refugees, combined with efforts to influence governmental policies. We consider these aspects to be inseparable. Owing to our in-depth knowledge of the needs and the situation of refugees, we are able to provide the most reliable information to policy makers.

ASSAF devotes great efforts to working with government offices and parliament members: we send letters to them, formulate and distribute reports, meet public figures and government agencies on a regular basis, initiate discussions in Knesset committees and do our best to promote social rights for refugees in Israel.

We have been fortunate to receive support from government officials in the past: the visit of former MK (parliament member) Shimon Solomon from Yesh Atid party to our Advocacy and Support Centre, in 2014, is one of the highlights in this regard. Tigriniya speaking MK Solomon interacted at length with our community mediators and aid seekers from Eritrea. It was a special and emotional visit, which helped him understand better the situation of refugees in Israel, and reinforced his commitment to support them.

Despite harsh policies and negative political sentiment towards asylum seekers in Israel, there are those who continue to choose to listen to us - and the results are apparent in different areas. Our message is clear: our work not only benefits asylum seekers but also aims to create a better and more just Israeli society, which rejects racism and hatred.

Photo: Former MK Shimon Solomon visiting the Advocacy and Support Center at ASSAF.

ASSAF's Advocacy and Support Center

“whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5)

The Advocacy and Support Center is the gate to ASSAF, a door that is open to every refugee in Israel. During the past decade it has served thousands of people. The center was established in times of great distress, when each day we welcomed numerous men and women who were just released from the prisons where they were held after crossing the border. We still remember refugees who arrived with nothing but hospital gowns.

The newcomer refugees were directed to go to Tel Aviv by the Immigration Authority and were completely destitute. They lacked accommodation, food or clothes, and knew nothing about the new place they arrived at. In the absence of support from the authorities they came to us for a hot cup of tea and basic directions, and we did our best to extend to them a warm welcome and a sense of belonging. ASSAF volunteers and employees delivered lectures and tours to help orient refugees, and helped them take their first steps with authorities and employers.

Throughout the years, activity at the center grew and changed. Asylum seekers in Israel remain mostly at the margins of the social structure. A decade without basic rights and access to welfare and health services have affected the most vulnerable groups: single mothers, women victims of domestic violence, survivors of the torture camps in Sinai, people with disabilities, and more. They now make the majority of the people who come to us for help. And we are here for them - working on their behalf, listening to their problems and providing aid every day.

Photo: Volunteer Renana Neeman handling requests from refugees at the Advocacy and Support Center. Photography: Daniel Dotan.

ASSAF's Youth Club

Refugee youth have to go through the difficult years of adolescence in a foreign country, without status and basic rights. Too often, they experience racism and discrimination. Therefore, they are considered ‘at risk’ and need support and empowerment. ASSAF has been working for a decade to improve the well-being and rights of asylum-seeking youth on the national level, as well as for providing them with a warm and unique space. Our dedicated coordinators and volunteers provide practical and emotional guidance and take an active part in their lives.

For many years, three days a week, ASSAF offices were transformed into a thriving youth club. The teenagers would come to do their homework, learn new skills, play games and eat a warm meal. The club has been an educational and experiential space where these teenagers could belong and feel safe, and where they could obtain tools to handle their complex situation.

The club, which was constantly growing, moved to a new location last year. The renovation has been allowed thanks to many supporters in a crowdfunding campaign, whose donations helped us to create a wonderful and pleasant place for the youth.

Our work on behalf of teenagers and youth, and the various support apparatuses we built for them -- make us proud and give hope to many.

Photo: teenagers enjoying the new club. Credit: Shmuel Binshtock.

Our activists and volunteers

ASSAF was founded in 2007 by local activists who could not stand by when they saw the great distress of refugees who came to Israel and received no support from the authorities. To this day ASSAF is a volunteer-based organization, with 100 women and men of all ages and social groups. Volunteers are our driving force. They out their hearts into this work, and they are our hope for a real social change.

We know well that alongside the satisfaction and triumphs, it is often difficult, painful and frustrating to work for the cause of asylum seekers. This is why we appreciate so greatly the hundreds of activists who volunteered at ASSAF in the past decade and worked with faith and dedication. They are our inspiration. Thanks to them we have become a significant organization and made a visible impact on the lives of refugees.

We are eternally grateful to them. Without them we wouldn’t be able to work to aid refugees all these years.

Photo: Youth Club volunteers and coordinators, past and present, celebrating at ASSAF's 10th anniversary event.

 
Campaign posters were desidned by Amir Reuveni, Graphic Designer: amir@amirreuveni.com