There are some 50,000 asylum seekers in Israel who come from African countries, mainly from Eritrea and Sudan, and some 2,000 in Jerusalem. Currently, Israel’s policy toward this population is very harsh, with a stated goal of detaining as many men as possible and encouraging them to leave the country. On the surface, then, it would seem to be the last place to hold cultural competency training. And yet, hold that training we did. Together with the Center for International Migration and Integration (CIMI), we helped write a training handbook about Cultural Competency for those coming from Eritrea and Sudan in Israel (in Hebrew, here, and here is the link to the actual document). We also held a series of training workshops, the last of which was held on December 30, 2015.
We held workshops for all those who come in regular contact with asylum seekers. This included RSD workers (Refugee Status Determination) – those who decide if and when to grant refugee status; Enforcement – those who grant visas and evaluate the statuses; and those who expel asylum seekers from Israel. The workshop on December 30 was for department supervisors.
The training workshop was based on the basic introductory workshop to Cultural Competency that was developed for the health care industry, and adapted it to the needs of the immigration authority. It was not always easy. There were those who understood the need for cultural competency training – the great differences in language, religion, and culture between Eritrea and Israel – and the need to be sensitive to these differences. There was also sometimes a basic difference in understanding of terminology: Many of the NGO’s who work with asylum seekers speak of them as ‘asylum seekers’ who have rights that need to be obtained and services that must be delivered. However, the official terminology of the authorities is that of ‘infiltrators’ or ‘illegal migrant workers,’ which carries a whole different set of connotations. Despite this gap, CIMI, which works to help asylum seekers obtain their rights, has a strong working relationship with the authority. In addition, there are already a number of components of cultural competency at the facility where visas are checked – the announcement system and signs are translated into Tigrinya, asylum seekers are given special consideration during the month of Ramadan, and more.
The training handbook, written together with CIMI, was an important achievement. (Front cover pictured above.) This was the first time ever that such a comprehensive document was written and published. The handbook contains information about both Sudan and Eritrea, why they came, and cultural characteristics (concept of time, methods of communication, challenges in their community in Israel, and more). May this handbook serve the workers well.
In addition to workers from the immigration authority, we are working together with CIMI with a range of professionals – local police, municipal community and social workers in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and more – to improve the cultural sensitivity of services to workers from Eritrea and Sudan.