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.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Do Not Oppress the Stranger

“Do not

oppress the stranger because you think he has no one to defend him; remember how Pharaoh learned that God defends the stranger.” Nahmanides (Ramban)

By Jesse Fox

They told us it was coming, and they weren’t kidding.

This week, Israel’s new Population, Immigration and Border Authority burst into south Tel Aviv, accompanied by a fleet of buses and soldiers from the Border Police. Their orders, apparently, were to arrest everyone: those with papers and those without, foreign workers and asylum seekers, married men and single mothers.

The Authority is headed by Yaakov Ganot, a veteran of the police, Border Police and Prison Service. Ganot has been criticized by the State Comptroller and even the Supreme Court, which found that “his behavior is not suitable to a policeman and can hurt the reputation of the police.” Under Ganot’s leadership, the Immigration Administration was criticized in the past for infringing upon the human rightsof foreign workers.

On July 1st, the first day of the new unit’s existence, it carried out its first wave of arrests. According to Haaretz, several hundred people were detained. Two thirds of them were released by nightfall.

Since then the raids have continued. The neighborhood of Neveh Sha’anan, which over the years has become a lively local version of Chinatown, with adults and children of multiple nationalities and ethnicities living side by side, is no longer a safe zone for Tel Aviv’s non-Jewish residents.

While foreign workers face the very real possibility of deportation, along with their children (who were in many cases born in Israel), African refugees cannot be legally returned to their homelands. Instead, the government seeks to expel them from the center of the country, to the periphery – north of Hadera and south of Gedera. While the official logic behind this policy is not clear (at least not to me, I have yet to hear a coherent official justification for it), it has been in effect for some time now.Only now, it is being strongly enforced.

After living through wars, genocide and oppression, these refugees have found some measure of stability in Tel Aviv, and have begun to rebuild their lives here. Now, however, the government has undermined that stability, and many refugees are exploring their options outside of Tel Aviv.

This week, one of the leaders of the South Sudanese community was detained. The cops, who examined his papers and saw that he is an asylum seeker, released him. But they left him with a warning. You have a week to leave Tel Aviv, they told him. Next time we find you here, you will be arrested and imprisoned.

This man, whose wife has just had a baby, works to support his family. For a while, he also ran a community center for South Sudanese. Although he closed it down not too long ago, he had planned on reopening it in a more central location. A devout Christian, he was also thinking about studying for the priesthood in Nazareth. This week, after being ordered to leave the city, he traveled up to Hadera to look for an apartment there.

In tolerant and pluralistic Tel Aviv, African refugees have built communities. Here they have access to jobs, housing, medical care and organizations that provide them with aid and services. Outside of the center, they are isolated, with no one to defend their rights. In the country’s periphery, they are cheap labor, easily exploited and not always made to feel welcome.

In the wake of previous raids, African refugees have fled to places like Eilat, where they found plentiful employment in that city’s hotels and tourism industry. Local politicians there, however, decided that the refugees were “a burden and a nuisance,” eventually convincing the Interior Ministry to expel them from Eilat (despite the fact that Eilat’s hoteliers lobbied against their expulsion). Many eventually returned to Tel Aviv to once again start over from scratch.

Refugees and foreign workers are human beings, and they have human rights. If the Interior Ministry has a good reason why refugees should not live in the center of the country, let it state it publicly. If not, it should stop playing with the fates of thousands of people as if their lives were a game of backgammon.

This expulsion, like previous ones, will only serve to disrupt people’s lives even more – people who have already been through unimaginable situations and suffer from serious post-traumatic stress. As a nation of refugees itself, Israel can and must demand a more ethical and humane policy from its government. Israeli citizens, American Jews and the various aid and advocacy organizations have a responsibility to tell the government what it doesn’t want to hear – that we will not let it mistreat refugees and victims of persecution and genocide.

click here to view this article at sustainablecityblog.com

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