Sunday, February 3, 2008

Refugees in Tel Aviv

An illegal African migrant being escorted by Israeli policemen before being dumped in an unprepared city, normally inTel Aviv.

This morning I finally got round to donating some old blankets and clothes to one of the refugee shelters that have sprung up in south Tel Aviv in recent months. The contact number in the paper for the volunteers helping the African refugees was incorrect and I finally got some information from a lady at the African Refugees Development Centre who told me that it was best to head for the big shelter on 3 Har Zion Boulevard, in the heart of the dilapidated Old Central Bus Station area where the foreign worker community lives.

Scrutinised by some young black guys I walked through the dark, decrepit badly lit and unmarked entrance. At the end of the corridor was a sign that read machon briyut (health institute - a euphimism for a brothel) Behind it, a plump, elderly lady in a tight fitting black dress beckoned me to enter. But she, I reckoned, was not interested in telling me where to leave my bundles. I passed a rotting pile of children's clothes and, following a cheap sign that read 'disco' , ventured down some steps passing a stinking and overflowing toilet before being hit by the stench coming off scores of unmade beds crammed like sardines on the former dancehall floor.

Nobody I talked to spoke English or Hebrew and there was no sign of a city social worker but with the help of some sign language I managed to pass on my bundles to two of the residents and receive a quiet a 'thank you' in return. These people, mainly young men, living in truly squalid conditions are among some 300 now living in similar shelters in Tel Aviv .

Israel, largely composed of refugees itself, and at least partially responsible for the Palestinian refugee problem, is now facing another refugee problem as hungry migrants and political asylum seekers flee from the Sudan or Eritrea seeking safety and work within its prosperous and democratic borders. If Israel returns them to Egypt they face further deprivation and even death. If it accepts them with open arms it will be flooded with refugees. If it rejects them is it not turning a moral blind eye to the lessons of Jewish history? If it accepts them will it not be exposing itself to a new national problem of gargantuan proportions?

Israel's refugee problem

Unprepared and unsure of what to do next, the authorities seem to have plumped for a typically Israeli compromise: accepting (at least some) of the refugees and then dumping them unceremoniously in the middle of Tel Aviv without shelter, clothing, food, water, money or papers. Only thanks to the work of organisations like ARDC are they able to stay alive at all.

No comments: