Fugee Fridays is a volunteer humanitarian initiative, founded in 2008 in response to the acute distress of the growing community of African asylum seekers living in Tel Aviv. Our purpose is to help address this community’s immediate needs while nurturing their independence, raising awareness of their plight, fostering positive cultural exchange between Israelis and Africans living in Israel and empowering both the refugee community and our volunteers. We organize a number of projects for the benefit of the African community, including food collection from the Carmel Market, language classes, children’s activities and a growing list of community development projects. Everything we do is guided by our belief in simple, elegant problem-solving which connects urgent needs with available and sustainable solutions. We hope that, by setting a personal example, we can inspire others to create similar social action projects that benefit their communities.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Seeing Tel- Aviv through the Lense of Refugee Youth

Over the past few months, a video course was conducted with the aim of putting the camera in the hands of refugee youth currently living in Tel Aviv.  By giving the group the opportunity to document their own realities and tell their own stories, Activevision has created a sort of freedom within the medium of documentary.   

The Asylum City: Video Project was extremely successful. We were able to teach the importance of filmmaking and storytelling both in theory and in practice.  As a result, a collection of very interesting and important films were produced. The group also gets satisfaction from actively taking part in spreading the awareness of their own situation, thus further breaking Stigma, and taking the video medium back to its origins.   

click here to view this article on Haaretz.com

click here to view Refugee Photography an article published by Harry on Israel21c.com

click here to view Israels Darfur Refugees Turn to Film to Find Expression an article published by Bernard Dichek on Israel21c.com

click here to view Takes on Black Reality an article by Vered Lee published in Haaretz. Hebrew

Left to fend for themselves

By Danny Gold

“I found her Saturday night, 8 months pregnant and sleeping in the park,” Yotam Sheffy tells me. The woman, an Eritrean refugee, had spent three nights in the park after the prison authorities released her from Ketziot Prison without notifying any of the various organizations assisting the refugee population. She is the newest addition to a cramped shelter run by the organization Yotam works for, the African Refugee Development Center (ARDC).

There is no hint of emotion in his voice as he tells me this, no exasperated sigh or sadness to betray his stoic demeanor. After more than a year of working for the ARDC, the sight of helpless African refugees left to fend for themselves in the streets of south Tel Aviv has grown all too familiar for him.

I have spent the past two months investigating the refugee crisis, interviewing volunteers, officials, NGO workers and the refugees themselves for a documentary film. Most of that time has been spent tagging along with Yotam and another ARDC volunteer, Omri Ovnat, at a shelter for Eritrean and Sudanese families in a dilapidated corner of Shapira, a distressed neighborhood in south Tel Aviv.

It is hard for me to overstate the extraordinary work that Omri and Yotam do on a daily basis. Only 21 and 26 years old, respectively, both have undertaken a tremendous amount of responsibility and, more often than not, serve as the only connection many of the refugees have to social services.

Their work goes beyond taking care of immediate needs – they are taking people who have experienced significant trauma and have been left on the street in a strange city with nothing but the clothes on their back, and making sure they gain access to healthcare, education, employment, food and shelter. In short, they are rebuilding lives.

I’ve watched them handle crisis after crisis, helping refugees deal with everything from imprisonment and homelessness to hospital visits, employment opportunities and making sure the children at the shelter are allowed to attend schools. They are tireless in their efforts, frequently running back and forth from meetings to shelters to Levinksy Park to check up on recent arrivals, many of whom have been carelessly left there with nothing. One need only spend a few minutes at the shelter and see the way they interact with the children and their mothers to see the impact of their work. Recently, a young woman who gave birth named her baby after Yotam.

Despite their best efforts, however, the ARDC and the other NGO’s dealing with the African refugee crisis are operating in perpetual crisis mode. Pressed for space, lacking funds, and undermanned, they deal with constantly changing dilemmas, a lack of clear policies, and a purposeful lack of assistance from the government. As the number of refugees steadily increases, and resources and budgets become more stressed, the members of the ARDC will have no choice but to leave a significant amount of refugees to fend for themselves on the streets of South Tel-Aviv. Unless the government acts soon, the problems Omri and Yotam face will grow exponentially.

Daniel Gold is an aspiring filmmaker and writer currently living in New York. He spent 10 weeks this past fall investigating the African refugee crisis. He can be reached at gold.dannyg@gmail.com

click here to view this article on haaretz.com

We Are All Refugees

This protest, held outside the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv, was one of several protests held throughout the country recently in response to the lack of an adequate government response to the influx of African asylum seekers into Israel.

African refugees first began arriving in Israel in significant numbers after riot police attacked a Sudanese refugee encampment in Cairo in late 2005, leaving dozens dead and hundreds without a place to sleep (link). For many, this event made it perfectly clear that African refugees were not welcome in Egypt. Many started to attempt to flee further north, to Israel.

In the eyes of the government these newcomers pose a delicate problem. Israel does not want to appear too hospitable to the millions of refugees living in Egypt and Sudan. As a result, the government has declared African refugees “enemy infiltrators,” and has attempted to keep them out of the country.

One expression of this is the “Hot Return” policy, under which asylum seekers who manage to enter Israel are immediately returned to Egyptian authorities by the IDF. In one instance in August 2007, 91 asylum seekers were caught and sent back to Egypt. The Egyptian government has more than once declared its intention to deport these people back to their countries of origin – which for most would mean either imprisonment or death.

Those that manage to enter Israel despite this are faced with detention and neglect by authorities. One policy response by the government has been to encourage refugees to find work and housing outside of central Israel. Nonetheless, the grimy slums around Tel Aviv's bus terminal, already an international enclave populated by tens of thousands of foreign laborers, have become a refugee transit camp. African refugees come here in search of jobs, housing and existing refugee communities.

The exact number of African refugees currently living in Israel is unknown. Estimates range as high as 12,000, and the numbers are steadily rising. To acquire official refugee status, individuals must submit an application for political asylum to the United Nations Commission for Refugees in Tel Aviv.

Israel was one of the first countries to sign the international UN Refugee convention of 1951. Article 33 of the Convention states:

“No Contracting State shall expel or return a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a political social group or political opinion.”

The Israeli government must undertake to fulfill its responsibilities to these asylum seeks, instead of closing its eyes to their plight.

click here to view this article on Haaretz.com