Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel

In Israel, African migrant families battle hunger, trauma

Date: 6.11.18 Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation, via ynetnews

In the concrete bowels of a vast bus station in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, a group of children gathers in the evening to play and dance to songs blaring from a CD player.

Their parents are African migrants who work until late, struggling to earn enough to put food on the table.

While their children have access to state education in Israel, they face hardships, support workers said.rican migrants' children dress up for Purim in Israel (Photo: AP)

The Ministry of Interior's Population and Immigration Authority did not respond to requests for comment.

Community school 

Many children of African migrants were born in Israel, speak Hebrew, attend Israeli schools and know Jewish culture and traditions. But they do not have Israeli identity cards and often encounter racist slurs, said Naftali.

Israel has two distinctive black populations—the migrants from Eritrea and Sudan, who are not Jewish, and immigrants from Ethiopia, who are Jewish. Israel has undertaken two massive operations to bring 35,000 of them to the country—Operation Moses in the 1980s and Operation Solomon in the 1990s.

Eritrean migrants in Israel, backed by rights groups, say they are asylum seekers fleeing violence, persecution and conscription under a repressive regime back home.

But the Israeli government views them as economic migrants, and has tried to deport them—although a failure to find a country willing to take them forced it to abandon a plan to expel thousands of mostly Eritrean and Sudanese men in April.

Between 2009 and 2017, Israel granted refugee recognition to less than 0.5 percent of the almost 11,000 asylum applications it decided on, according to the Israeli non-profit Hotline for Refugees and Migrants.

Elifelet was established following a 2012 hate crime attack, when Molotov cocktails were thrown into a Tel Aviv center for refugees where 21 children were sleeping, Naftali said.

For the children of migrant families, developing pride in their heritage is important to equip them to deal with the discrimination they face in everyday life, she added.

An after-hours school set up by the city's Eritrean migrant community has similar aims, teaching children their own language and culture, and offering them a safe space in the evenings.

"If our kids go on the streets, they get a lot of discrimination. Here, it's like a home," said Kifle Bizen, director of the Abugida Eritrean Community School.

Located on the top floor of a rundown building in southern Tel Aviv, it is staffed by volunteers who, after finishing day jobs as cleaners or cooks, teach classes for about 120 Eritrean children, aged six to 14, four times a week.

Set up in 2013, it assists children with school work and fosters their Eritrean identity, Bizen explained.

"Our dream is to support our children not only with knowledge but also with their sense of self to help them develop," he said.

Learning Tigrinya is key, said Bizen, not least because children and parents often cannot understand one another, sparking arguments.

"Here, 100 percent of the children talk in our language," he said. The Eritrean community is like "an extended family," working together to overcome shared challenges, he added.

The official monthly fee at Abugida is about 400 shekels ($108), but most Eritreans pay half that or less, said Bizen, while 40 children from single-parent households attend free.

Since the migrant job tax was imposed, about 20 children have dropped out because their parents could no longer afford to pay anything, Bizen added.

Mental scars 

Some students are affected by psychological troubles, making them withdrawn and unwilling to make friends, said Bizen.

Berhe Teame, a volunteer at Abugida and an Eritrean community leader, said a psychologist was brought in last year, but the project collapsed due to a lack of funds.

"The trauma lives in us," he said. His own daughter was held in a Libyan prison with her mother before arriving in Israel.

"My kid saw everything," he said. "When the police beat her mother, she was with her."

Many parents are also scarred by their ordeal, said Bizen, describing one father who talked of a severed head he saw in the Sinai desert.

Ultimately, many Eritreans in Israel dream of returning home once the situation there improves, said Teame.

"We hope to have peace in our country, to be able to give our kids our land," he said. "There will be a time when things will change. Until then, we need to give them education.",7340,L-5390626,00.html