“We know how to act even when the political situation is hostile and make a change for the better”

16.11.22, Orly Levinson-Sela, Public Advocacy Director, ASSAF


Dear Friends,

Following reports in the media regarding the government coalition agreements that are being negotiated, we see that human rights in Israel, including the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, are in real danger. If passed in the Knesset, the “Override Law” will make it possible to repeal by legislation any High Court rulings that are intended to protect minority rights, and so harm this group’s rights. ASSAF, together with other human rights organizations in Israel, and in fact with everyone who supports a democratic Israel, will fight this legislation in every possible way.

In the meantime, I would like to share with you some  of the recent activities in the Public Advocacy department.

Reducing the developmental and educational gaps of refugees and asylum seekers children

About 8,000 children of refugees and asylum seekers from Africa are growing up in Israel. Even though the vast majority of these children were born in Israel, have studied in the public school system from the age of 3 and show normal developmental potential, they show significant academic, developmental and lingual gaps compared to children of Israeli citizens. These gaps are the result of the years these children spent in substandard conditions in unofficial daycare facilities, living without permanent status, basic rights, and in economic hardship. Added to these is the effects of growing up in an environment surrounded by racism and xenophobia, to which these children are exposed from a young age.

After studying the challenges that refugee children face in the education system, we in the Public Advocacy department are working to raise awareness amongst government officials of the need and obligation to provide refugee children with additional educational support. In recent months, we have been in contact with the Ministry of Education regarding this issue, with the aim that the children will have the opportunity to close the gaps and exercise their right to equal, inclusive and tailored education.

The fight to end segregation in the education system in Tel Aviv

In the coming days, together with hundreds of asylum seeker parents, Israeli citizens and our partners, The Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Levinsky Garden Library, ASSAF will file an appeal against the ruling of the District Court in our petition regarding the segregation of children of asylum seekers from the children of Israeli citizens in kindergartens and schools in Tel Aviv. In both the petition and the appeal we are represented by Adv. Haran Reichman from The Clinic for Law and Educational Policy at the University of Haifa, and Adv. Tal Hassin from The Association for Civil Rights.

About 3 months ago the District Court rejected the petition that we submitted to abolish segregation in schools. The court ruled that the municipality’s actions were justified as they were according to the regulations regarding registration areas. In our appeal we will argue that the decision is wrong, since we brought evidence that the municipality intentionally imposed segregation, and this evidence was ignored. In addition, it is argued that even if the separation is not the result of a deliberate policy, it is still unlawful, and the municipality can and must abolish it.

The fight to stop the policy that limits the employment of refugees and asylum seekers in 17 cities

On Thursday November 24th, we attended a hearing that was held in the District Court in Lod on our petition against the 17 cities regulation that limits the work of refugees. We have already described in detail in our petition and position papers the enormous damage this will cause the refugee community. Attorney Elad Kahana from Kav-La’Oved argued on behalf of all of us – refugees, ASSAF and other refugee organizations – why the regulation should be canceled and reiterated our request that the court issue an interim order that would freeze the start of the regulation until a ruling on the petition. Adv. Kahana explained that if the procedure goes into effect on January 1, 2023, people will start receiving dismissal letters as early as December.

The state agreed to the judge’s proposal to postpone the date of the regulation and it will come into effect on February 1st, 2023. The court decided that another court hearing will be held on December 18th, 2022, and we will be there and update on developments (follow.us on twitter for live tweets from court).

Refugees and emigration from Ukraine

In a few days it will be 9 months since the start of the war in Ukraine (February 24, 2022), and based on the information we have received, a very bleak picture emerges. Israel’s policy, as in the past, regarding its treatment of refugees who seek refuge from wars and suffering, is unchanged. The majority of refugees arriving from the Ukraine are women and children, and those who do not fall under the “law of return” receive minimal social support leaving the main burden of care to fall again on non-government organizations and activists who cannot stand idly by in the face of this situation. The state does not provide refugees and child refugees with shelter, sustainable food aid or subsidized healthcare, including mental healthcare, leaving the mental and physical distress of their trauma untreated.  The fact that the refugees from Ukraine are forced to renew their tourist visas every 1 to 2 months, and the statement by Israel that it “will not enforce the work ban” on their tourist visas, causes uncertainty and leaves these refugees exposed to the danger of abusive employment, exploitation, trafficking and survival sex.

We have seen this chronicle of neglect and abuse before. Approximately 16 years ago the first refugees from Sudan and Eritrea began to arrive in Israel. They were greeted with an even worse welcome, to this day living in Israel without formal status or economic and social rights. This cannot happen again to refugees from Ukraine. The conclusion is clear. Israel must formulate a clear, transparent and long-term policy regarding the rights of those who seek refuge, and are covered by it under group protection against deportation. Protection against deportation without social rights is unacceptable, and a violation of human rights. We will not stop fighting to change the situation.

Facing forward and towards political changes

The results of these elections require us to reorganize, and in the Public Advocacy department, we have immediately set out to examine the possibilities available to us. Even in the incoming Knesset and the new government, there are opportunities to advance the rights of refugees and asylum seekersWe know how to do this, to act even when the political situation is hostile and make a change for the better. We have done this in the past when Israeli governments went to extremes in their policies regarding the refugee community. We will continue to do this in the future as well.

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