There are tens of thousands of African refugees living in Israel, Muslims and Christians from countries such as South Sudan, Darfur and Eritrea. Most live in the Tel Aviv area, and others live and work in Arad, Eilat, Jerusalem and other towns. There are about 2,000 who live in the Jerusalem area.
These asylum seekers were forced to leave their homes and their countries due to persecution, civil wars, genocide and other horrors. Those who reach Israel face harsh realities: no regulated status, no work permits and limited access to vital health and welfare services, legal aid or housing. As a result, these people live in the worst conditions, work in the worst conditions, and, outside of Tel Aviv, until very recently, no one was helping them. Since the JICC’s mandate is to empower all Jerusalem groups – including asylum seekers – to work with service providers and resolve inter-cultural conflict, in 2013 the JICC decided to enter this arena. We, together with the Jerusalem Municipality, hired a part-time professional – by then the only worker dedicated to helping African asylum seekers outside the Tel Aviv area – to begin to respond to this community’s vast array of needs. Nowadays, there are more paid professionals in other cities as well, and the staff in Jerusalem has expanded.
Since the modest start, amazing strides have been made. A whole network of services – from health care, to education, to employment, to social and welfare rights – has been developed, together with a wide range of partners, from the Jerusalem Municipality, the Jerusalem Foundation, the Jerusalem African Community Center (JACC), the Center for International Migration and Integration (CIMI) and many more. All work in tandem with our coordinator and the Municipality, to help to improve the quality of life of African asylum seekers in Jerusalem. Work includes:
- Welfare and Rights Realization: Individual follow-up and consultation, facilitating access to welfare and other public systems; parents and children program
- Community Development: Community dialogue, increasing integration into general society; Participation of families in community-wide events.
- Integration into Schools: Meetings with education officials to facilitate integration; supervision and assistance to early childhood frameworks; evaluations for kindergarten children; preparation for first grade; language assistance; programs and assistance for parents and children in elementary schools. There is also a special program introducing parents of young children to the Israeli / Jerusalem education system.
- System Training – Creating and maintaining partnerships, especially with the municipal welfare office. The office to which most asylum seekers are assigned is in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood and adapted to their needs, but not the needs of asylum seekers. Other efforts focus on increasing access to health care and education.
- Parents and Children: During the two-month summer vacation some 20 children and their parents participate in a program to prepare the young children for first grade. This includes special workshops for the children, special workshops for the parents, as well as joint workshops.