בינה בפייסבוק בינה באינסטגרם צרו קשר עם בינה במייל

Working with south Tel Aviv's asylum seekers

My name is Melissa Mann, and I am a twenty-six year old Jewish woman from New York City. I am participating in Tikkun Olam, a semester-long program supported by BINA and the Ruth Daniel Centers. I spend the majority of my time volunteering with the Eritrean Women’s Community Center (EWCC) and working with south Tel Aviv’s asylum seeking population. Designed and run by Eritrean women, the EWCC provides a safe space for women, specifically single mothers and asylum seekers, to access services like vocational training, language classes, group therapy, and childcare resources. My central responsibility is the coordination of weekly clinics to facilitate the completion Refugee Status Determination paperwork, a required document for a person to be reviewed to receive official asylum seeker status.

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I understand that my being an American and a temporary resident of south Tel Aviv may cause certain people to invalidate my opinion. I can only speak from my perspective and share with you what I’ve witnessed, so please take that for what it is worth.

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Over the past two months, I have met strong, resilient women who endured unknowable hardship and torture to find a safe place for themselves and their children. I have met young men, who in spite of lacking adequate housing and employment, spend their extra time volunteering to translate for other native Tigrinya speakers needing to complete their Refugee Status Determination forms. I have met sweet, precocious children born in Israel, who speak Hebrew and only know Israel as home, but by virtue of their parent’s refugee status are stateless and left without protection or services. I also have the privilege of working with dedicated staff and volunteers from south Tel Aviv who have come together in these uncertain times to support each other and create community. 

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It is important to note that Refugee Status Determination is a lifeline, not a permanent solution. Currently, the completion and submission of the form staves off deportation until the individual receives a response from the Ministry of the Interior, but this is not always the case, and the timeline for a response can range from a week to ten years. So far, out of the 39,000 asylum seekers living in Israel, of which 14,000 are estimated to have submitted the Refugee Status Determination requests, a mere twelve people have been recognized by the state as legitimate asylum seekers. The rest are living in limbo, living in fear of being sent to a third country, a place they have never been and where safety is not ensured, or back to a Eritrea, where their lives are in imminent danger.

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These are not people different from you or me. These men and women did what any of us would do: they fled a military dictatorship that carries out numerous human rights abuses against its people, including no religious freedom and life-long conscripted military service, where any attempt to speak out or flee is punishable by indeterminate imprisonment or death.  Eritreans did not come to Israel by choice, but out of fear for their lives. And I am of the belief that as Jews, as a population that is no stranger to persecution or adversity, we have a duty to help protect and provide refuge for these people.

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The international Jewish community cannot turn a blind eye to blatant injustices happening on our doorstep. My motivation to work with the asylum seeker community stems from compulsion: my moral compass, informed by my Jewish faith, drives me to do work that serves the greater good and, like the namesake of the Tikkun Olam program, to heal the world.

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The plight of Eritrean asylum seekers in Israel is dominating Jewish news cycle. Recently, Prime Minister Netanyahu released a plan to help resettle asylum seekers between Israel and Western nations, only to quickly drop the plan with the first instance of backlash. The increasingly unstable political landscape only makes Eritrean asylum seekers more vulnerable and the services of the EWCC evermore critical. Last month, with the help of BINA, the EWCC held a day-long event to facilitate the completion of fifty forms and train dozens of new volunteers. We hope to hold another day-long event in late May, but our ability to effectively host these events is dependent on resources. If you are looking for a way to support asylum seeker community from outside of Israel, please consider making a contribution to the EWCC at https://eritreanwomenscenter.org/paypal-donation.

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Read BINA’s statement and action plan for African Refugees and Asylum seekers in Israel: https://bina.org.il/en/bina-statement-action-plan-african-asylum-seekers-israel/

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