קטגוריה: English

Softening their reality

 “In one of the first winters when asylum seekers started arriving in Israel, around 2007 or 2008, I filled a bag with my daughter’s old clothes, she was around 7 years old then, and drove to the Central Bus Station. I stopped the car by the side of the road to ask where there was a shelter in the area. Before I could get any words out, hordes of desperate people surrounded my car and grabbed everything I had to give. I saw grown men taking children’s toys and baby clothes.  It was a very traumatic experience for me. As far as I was concerned, I was experiencing masses of black people charging at me, I felt attacked and it took me a long time to digest what happened there. Only a few weeks later I began asking myself why a 30 year-old man would pounce on baby’s clothing when he doesn’t even have children. I understood that this outburst, which I had interpreted as violent, was a testimony to the magnitude of their distress and helplessness.

Slowly, as I became more interested and read more, I started to develop a great shame. As someone who loves the Israeli language and culture, as someone who believes with all her heart in the traditional Israeli values, I found myself reading and feeling ashamed, again and again. My grandfather and grandmother entered Israel as ‘infiltrators’ from Lebanon during the British Mandate. They entered with fake documents and it saved their lives. If they had stayed in Germany, they wouldn’t have survived. I simply know from the people closest to me what it looks like when you reach such extreme states.

תמונה
"More like taking care of your neighbor's son" 
Aviva Levinson, Photography: Tomer Poltin

I decided to volunteer and I started looking for a place to do it. I wanted to volunteer with children in the afternoon, and then I heard about ASSAF. When they told me about the club I thought it wouldn’t be right for me. I have children that age, and from what I know, they usually prefer not to have adults around. I didn’t really understand what they meant by ‘club’. My first time there I immediately fell in love with the place and from that moment I dove into a journey that continues to this day. When I’m asked about the club, I say it’s more like being in touch with your neighbor’s son when his parents are away, or when they need help. You feed him, sometimes help him with his homework, and sometimes play or talk with him. It’s very simple, and that’s what’s beautiful about it. This club is based on the most fundamental of human relationships. We’re just a bunch of well-meaning adults that are there for them in a constant space is there when they need it. They’re helpless in this country, and we’re here to listen to them, keep them company and help with what we can. Like any friendship in life, there comes a moment when you realize that you’re committed and that this friendship is for life.

This club is an anchor in the lives of these youths. It softens their reality. Although at first glance they give the impression of being completely normal Israeli kids, at some point you realize that they’re experiencing a very complex childhood. Most if not all of them come from a very difficult family and financial background. They’re dealing with the classic immigrant experiences, trying to adjust and fit in, but with the addition of hopelessness for their future. Almost nothing about their lives is a typical characteristic of adolescence. These are 13-18 year-old children, this should be the most colorful, happy and free time of their lives. They should have no reasons to worry at this age. However, they experience this time being the ones who have to keep the family together, whether financially or simply because they’re the only ones who speak the local language and know Israeli culture. When they grow up, they discover they have no status in Israel and will have to go to prison when they turn 18.

The least we can do is to be there for them twice a week, prepare them a hot meal, play games with them, listen to what they have to say and try to create hope together.”

Aviva Levinson was a journalist for “City Mouse” and “Time Out” magazines, and “Ma’ariv” and “Ha’aretz”, two of Israel’s leading newspapers. Eight years ago she initiated the “Houses from the Inside” festival, and has been running it ever since. The festival is an urban architectural and design festival that takes place every year in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem together with 30 other cities across the world. For the past two years she has also been volunteering at Assaf’s youth club.

השארת תגובה

מתויק תחת English, refugees and asylum seekers, Uncategorized

International Women's Day

When an average person thinks about an asylum seeker in Israel (whether he is for or against promoting their rights), they think of a black man.

It's true that in Israel there are more male asylum seekers than female, and this is largely due to cultural and practical difficulties in fleeing their country and making it through the difficult journey. Even so, there is an entire population of women asylum seekers living among us, hidden from view, swallowed by the sea of incitement and fear. Aside from the regular difficulty inherent in being an asylum seeker in Israel, female asylum seekers are also forced to deal with the built-in discrimination one faces as a woman – both within their communities and outside of them in Israel's reality.

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Ganet (not her real name) is an Eritrean asylum seeker and a member of Assaf's support group for women victims of torture and human trafficking.  She fled Eritrea three years ago and lived on her own in a refugee camp in Sudan. One day Bedouin trucks arrived at the refugee camp and they kidnapped her together with 8 other women and 28 men. "There's nothing you can do, they just take you," she says. Like most victims of torture and trafficking in Sinai, Ganet didn't intend to come to Israel, and certainly not to the Sinai desert. On the long trip from Sudan to Sinai, many of the men managed to escape during vehicle changes or during the drive. "As a woman," she shares, "you can't do anything. To escape you need to run faster than them, to physically protect yourself." For 5 months, Ganet lived in a torture camp in Sinai. Five months of harsh torture and unending sexual assault, until she was able to raise the ransom that led to her release. "The difference between men and women in the camp? It's totally different. When they come to a man with an electric shocker and beat him, it has a purpose. It's clear that it's being done to raise the odds of him being able to collect the money faster. For women, you no longer feel any purpose. Any man can pass by you by chance and decide to rape you on the spot, just because he feels like it."

After 5 months, Ganet's relatives were able to collect the money. She was released from the torture camp for tens of thousands of dollars and, together with 7 Sudanese men with whom she didn't share a language, she found herself 300 meters from the border fence between Egypt and Israel. The second they got off the truck Egyptian soldiers started shooting at them. The 7 men ran in every direction, fleeing the bullets. Ganet, after 5 months of daily torture, living in slavery, could not run. "I just walked slowly towards the fence, I thought I was going to die. I don't know how I stayed alive." She doesn't remember much from that day, she only remembers not knowing that she was in Israeli territory after crossing the border. She walked from 6 in the evening until 5 am the next morning inside Israel, until an IDF jeep came across her. "I saw the soldier coming out of the jeep," she recalls, "and I fainted."

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She woke up in Soroka Hospital in Be'er Sheva. Her physical condition was extremely bad. She was very thin and had bruises all over her body as a result of the torture and crossing the barbed wire fence at the border. Nobody was appointed to accompany her at the hospital, and Ganet was unable to communicate with the doctors in any way; they in their turn didn't know who she was, what her status was in Israel and what treatment she was entitled to. After 4 days in the hospital, the doctors decided to release her. "They released me at 8 in the morning. At 8 in the evening the doctor finished work for the day and saw me sitting in the hospital entrance. He didn't understand what I was still doing there and thought maybe I had misunderstood. But I had understood, I just didn't have anywhere to go." The next day, Ganet managed to track down a friend of her brother's, an Eritrean asylum seeker who had been living in Israel for some time. He picked her up from the hospital and she was a guest in his home. "A man in my position would have slept on the street, there are quite a few asylum seekers who are forced to do so when they're released from prison with nothing. But what could I do? I was a woman after months in Sinai. I couldn't walk down the street."

Asylum seekers that come to Israel are immediately imprisoned in Saharonim Prison and receive their residence permits only upon their release (following an arbitrary period that can last from a few months up to a few years). Ganet entered Israel in August 2012 and was released directly from the hospital. Therefore she was never issued a residence permit. Today, after a year and a half of repeated efforts to convince the authorities to issue her the permit she is entitled to, she still lives in Israel without a permit.  At the end of our conversation, Ganet spoke about the difficulties inherent in being a female asylum seeker in Israel. "It's hard to separate out the difficulties, because life is impossible for all asylum seekers in Israel. A man released from the hospital would not have received a residence permit either. Men also don't have any basic rights. For example, I can't find any regular work because I have no papers of any kind. So at first I was told to go live in a cheap apartment, where 10 men are squeezed in together. I can't do such a thing, I am not comfortable in that situation." Asylum seeker communities are usually communities with built-in traditions of exclusion of women, and in the Israeli reality where female asylum seekers aren't counted and their existence is all but unknown to the general public, they are harmed by the lack of protections or legal reference towards them by the State of Israel.

One of the amazing things about Ganet's story (and the stories of many others) is the way she lives and speaks today. She tells her story with humility and speaks of her continued attempts to receive a residence permit as if this were a normal situation. Many of the female asylum seekers in Israel are single mothers and some are battered women. They live under the shadow of intense discrimination and deal with impossible lives. And yet, most are graced with enormous emotional strength that allows them to get up in the morning, get through the day and fight for their rights in Israel. After the long hell Ganet survived, she supports herself with temporary jobs in a permanent apartment, tries hard not to break and insists on talking about the future.

השארת תגובה

מתויק תחת English, refugees and asylum seekers, Uncategorized

Eritrean Mothers' letter to Ministers of Health and Social Services- International Children's Rights Day

IMG_2284

18/11/13

To:

Minister of Health Ms Yael German and Minister of Social Affairs and Social Services Mr. Meir Cohen

Dear Ms German and Mr. Cohen,

This week, on November 20 2013, The Child’s Rights Day, a day that is meant to straighten and reserve the obligation to welfare for children as they are, will be noted in Israel and around the world. This is why this week we address you on behalf of our children, children who live in Israel without an access to health and social services. We address you as women and mothers. We know that as parents, you will be able to understand the helplessness we experience and as ministers in the Israeli government, it is in your hands to help us.

We thank the Israeli Government for understanding that we don’t have in our option to go back to Eritrea in the mean time, thus providing us with protection and not deporting us. We also try to protect our children and every day for us is a survivor struggle– a struggle to bring food home, to pay rent, a struggle to supply our children with a sense of security and stability. With that, we have trouble facing the reality in Israel and we need the help and support of you, of the authorities and of the government offices.

Today, we cannot give our children basic needs that mothers want and need to give to their children. We are here alone, we had to escape Eritrea, we left our parents and siblings behind and we found ourselves alone, devoid in a foreign country. Some of us are survivors of Sinai Torture Camps, in which women are violently held, raped and tortured for ransom. Amongst us are also many single mothers, women who have made the long road and are standing here today alone with their children, without the support of a family or a community.

We do not have work permits, therefore we cannot work legally in an organized way and we get paid with starvation wages. We have trouble financing health care for our children, not to mention some sort of frames or activities for them for the afternoon or school equipment.  When we cannot assist them, they do not get help from the social services. Our children, who now live in Israel, are not equal to other children. Their health and welfare is not as important as the health and welfare of other children.  They are treated as unwelcomed guests and they are punished on a reality they did not cause .

It is a daily distress, and we approach you because you have the ability to facilitate it.

You have the ability to promise our children health and social services, so they too will be able to enjoy the basic rights, as other children. This week, on child’s rights day, we ask you, try to see our children too and act for them.

With thanks and kind regards,

Eritrean Mothers,

Redia Ali, Gant Berhane, Zaid Berhe, Zayed Woldogabriat, Abeba Aylew, Mabrehat Yohanes, Berty Brira, Samira Abdalla, Ergalem Gabrmiryam, Sabhe Tedase, Pryvini Tekle, Samara Wayt Germay, Eden Yohanes, Akbert Ebrahim, Benabish Tshoma and Zabib Sultan

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השארת תגובה

מתויק תחת English, refugees and asylum seekers

"My Jewish identity defines who I am"

Interview with Bracha Shapiro, Social Worker at ASSAF

 The only thing we can try to do is ease the pain a little bitBracha  Shapiro

The only thing we can try to do is ease the pain a little bit" . Bracha Shapiro

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7 תגובות

מתויק תחת English

"We fled Eritrea to save our lives"

חולם לחזור לאריתריאה. דוויט דמוז במסיבת עיתונאים בתל אביב (צילום: אקטיבסטילס)

.Hello, my name is Dawit, and I am a refugee living in Israel from Eritrea

It is difficult to explain to Israelis about our problems. The dictatorial regime in Eritrea uses endless military service as a way to control the citizens. But how to explain this to Israelis who also go to the military? The Eritrean experience is nothing like that in Israel

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השארת תגובה

מתויק תחת English, refugees and asylum seekers

"I believe in change"

Orit Marom, advocacy coordinator at ASSAF

Orit Marom, advocacy coordinator at ASSAF

An interview with Orit Marom, advocacy coordinator at ASSAF

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מתויק תחת English

"If you send us back to Darfur, the Sudanese will kill all of us" – Testimony of a Darfurian Refugee

 This moving post was written by Diri Abramson, an Asylum Seeker from Darfur living in Israel

My name is Diri Abramson.  I am from Darfur and I am 18 years old.   I began studying in an Israeli high school three years ago.

I understand many Israelis are  very  angry at the refugees  because  you are receiving hundreds  of people  across the border  every day,  and  you  don't  know where  these  people are coming  from.  It is true that this is a very complex situation.  But  I want  you to understand that  I came  from a very bad  situation  in  Darfur and  that the condition of the  Darfurians are  getting worse  and worse.  If  you  decide that you don’t want the Darfurian refugees to stay here  in  Israel,  then there  is  no other place for us to go.  If you send us back to Darfur, the Sudanese will kill all of  us.  They kill children who are just three months old and rape and kill our sisters.

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השארת תגובה

מתויק תחת English, refugees and asylum seekers