Being the Child of Asylum Seekers in Israel ‘Hurts Every Day’

10.07.22, Bar Peleg, Haaretz

Asylum Seeker Community

Children and adolescents

Israeli government policy

The shelter system

Today, Venus, now 19, is doing a post-high school year of voluntary communal service in Netanya, but the insult from that day still burns inside her. Her mother, a single parent, is an asylum seeker from South Sudan. The lack of legal residency status in Israel is a constant presence in her life.
Here, but not here
Among others, the researchers spoke with high-school graduates, who presented a broader perspective. “The younger children are not always aware of being without status,” she continued. “Inside the education system they feel they belong, but suddenly at age 18 they’re not like everyone else.”
One interviewee, a graduate of the Bialik Rogozin school in Tel Aviv – whose student body hails from dozens of countries – described finishing high school as a real crisis. “As long as I was in school,” he said, “I was responsible, I volunteered in the community, attended the Gadna [premilitary program]. I was like everyone else. But I was a naive kid, I didn’t understand the situation. I didn’t ever think about my status. After I graduated and needed to begin working in a normal job, they asked me to go to the Interior Ministry to renew my visa. Suddenly, for an entire year, I needed to make the rounds. After school I just had a feeling of humiliation, every place I went.”
The researchers also found differences in responses between the children of working migrants who received legal status and the children of asylum seekers who lacked residency, on the question of vagrancy – a situation that has occupied welfare authorities in recent years – especially in Tel Aviv. “When there is no policy on the national level that determines ‘this is how we will deal with it,’ the role of local players becomes very central in the attempt to understand how to treat these children,” Prof. Kemp noted.
‘We say no’
According to the Political Geography study, in Tel Aviv – where the investment in children and teenagers without status is relatively high, in terms of personnel and budgets – a segregated system has been created in which they study separately. Jerusalem has lower budgets, but these young people are more integrated into the municipal educational system; there is a more integrative model there.
The researchers explain that the two models were created out of a necessity to find solutions in a situation in which the government has avoided deciding on the status and by extension the future of these minors, and not necessarily intentionally.
For example, in Jerusalem the authors found that children without residency status up to age 3 attend preschools located mostly in East Jerusalem; only later do they take part in municipal educational frameworks located in the more centrally located neighborhoods in the city, where they actually live. In practice, an integrative model has been created – but one lacking in resources.
In contrast, in Tel Aviv most of the children of asylum seekers and migrants study in schools in the southern part of the city, where de-facto separation exists in any case. As in the example cited by Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, about how “there are no parking problems because there is no parking” in his city – the researchers quote Shirley Rimon, head of the municipal education administration, who admitted: “There is no segregation because there are no Israeli children who live in those neighborhoods. Even if we wanted to have integration, there is no one to do it with.”
However, recently, in another context, Rimon said that in the Shapira neighborhood in south Tel Aviv, only 65 percent of the students are children of foreign nationals – as compared to over 90 percent in the nearby Hatikvah and Neve Sha’anan neighborhoods.
Last month, the Tel Aviv District Court held a hearing on a petition against separation at local schools, in the name of some 300 children lacking legal residency status. A compromise to integrate about 200 of them in schools in the center and north of the city was rejected for technical reasons, and the court is expected to make a final ruling next month.
A teacher at one of the “separate” schools told the researchers about the difference between it and regular schools: “There are two tracks for the bagrut: one for regular Israelis and one for foreigners, an easier one. It is the basis of the curriculum used for Jewish new immigrants and we channel the non-Jewish children of foreigners to it too. In our school it helps them achieve more and so our bagrut [scores] are higher than the national average.”
An asylum seeker from Tel Aviv who was interviewed for the study explained her children’s feelings. “They ask all the time why they are separated from other children in the country. They were born here and they are asking what the difference is between them and children with Israeli citizenship. I think the separation is dangerous for children, they are becoming a target for racism,” the mother said.
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