“Giving Children Life” – Supporting Unaccompanied Minors

From 2014 to 2017, ASSAF cooperated with CIMI – the Israeli Center for International Migration and Integration, to assist young asylum seekers who arrived in Israel as unaccompanied minors and to promote their rights vis-à-vis state authorities.

According to estimates, about 600 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers entered Israel as minors without a parent to accompany them. Their families stayed behind as they fled dictatorships, wars and genocide, all alone. When they arrived in Israel, they were detained in Saharonim Prison, sometimes for an extended period of time. After their release from prison, most were admitted to various boarding schools throughout the country. They were placed in classrooms with Israeli and fellow refugee students, they learned Hebrew and were fully integrated into the Israeli education system. For years, they harbored the feeling that they had finally found an island of stability, and sensed that they had become a part of their surrounding and community.

On their day of graduation, their legal status and lives were upturned and they lost the protection and rights afforded to them as minors. The temporary stay permits they now receive, the same ones provided to other ‘infiltrators’ in Israel, are only granted for two months at a time and do not officially allow their holders to work in Israel. Once these teenagers become adults in the eye of the law, they also lose access to welfare and health services.

These young people, whom the State nurtured and for whom it assumed moral, legal and economic responsibility while they were teenagers, now feel spurned and unwanted by the State. The unaccompanied youngsters, who cannot return to their homelands, see Israel as the only safe place they have known in their life. They feel grateful and obligated to contribute to Israeli society – to serve in the military or national civil service. As part of a unique program that took place between 2015 and 2016, 15 of these young people took part in national service, volunteering with the elderly, with teenagers at risk and with special education school students. These unaccompanied youngsters strive to live normal lives in Israel, until the time comes when they can return to their countries of origin.