Approximately 35,000 asylum seekers and other undocumented people live in
Approximately 6,500 children of asylum seekers and other undocumented children live in Tel Aviv-Jaffa; 4,000 of them are between the ages of birth to six.
This year, more children in the ages of early childhood are in municipal or governmental day-care centers than at the "babysitters" (the community’s pirate day-cares).
Characteristics of the
Asylum Seeker Community
Lack of economic and family support networks.
Minimal services to ensure their needs and rights.
Uncertainty about their future.
Cultural and language gaps.
Living in a hostile social climate.
Traumatic life circumstances.
Impact on the Children
Minimal parental presence due to the necessity to work long hours.
Long hours in inadequate settings at the early childhood ages.
Wandering outside in a dangerous environment.
Developmental, educational and emotional insufficiencies.
Ori Halevy, a community social worker at the Advocacy and Support Center, share the challenges in the past year:
My job as a community social worker at Mesila is typically characterized by long-term projects, comprehensive research on the needs of the community of asylum seekers and undocumented people in Tel Aviv-Yafo, and ongoing efforts to devise ways to meet the changing needs of the community. Due to COVID pandemic, the nature of my work was totally transformed when I got on board the 'high-speed train' of caring for the community during the pandemic – a train operated by Mesila that has not yet stopped at any station since then.
Overnight, our work became dynamic and unpredictable. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, we are in an unending race to address the enormous hardships that the community members are facing, while adapting our services to the changing.
As soon as reports began emerging about a virus raging somewhere in China, we began thinking about what relevant information should be conveyed to the community members, who are not consumers of the Israeli media. We wanted to make the information accessible, and that is what we have done since the outbreak of the pandemic.
When the first lockdown was imposed in the middle of March, we worked to meet the most basic needs of the most excluded community in the country, who are disenfranchised and lack support systems. Each day anew, we had to identify the most critical and pressing problems and provide an immediate and relevant response to them: circulating clear information in a number of languages, which involved cultural mediation, recruiting volunteers and activists in the community for different tasks, delivering food from home to home, organizing recreational activities for the children, guiding and supporting the community in coping with the crisis and the emotional stress, and much more. We worked at an accelerated pace and our adrenalin levels were sky high, which helped overcome the fear and anxiety that often appeared when I came home to my private nest.
When community members started testing positive for coronavirus, we painstakingly gathered each and every name so we could call those who were ill or were in quarantine and ask them how they were feeling, in addition to providing support and food. I remember one case in particular. A social worker from the Sourasky Medical Center-Ichilov Hospital called and told me about a woman from the community who had tested positive when she came to have her baby delivered. Her husband was immediately sent to quarantine in their home together with their other children, and the woman was separated from the newborn baby and was not allowed to see him. I spoke with the father, who was very distressed. He told me that he and his wife had no information about the condition of the baby. Furthermore, they were not prepared properly for the quarantine and lacked basic items that would be needed when his wife came home from the hospital. It is not easy to bring a baby into the world in a foreign country, with little knowledge of the language, without a family support system, and surely not when the mother has been infected with a virus. It pained me to think about this woman who had been separated from her baby and her husband and was left all alone. We mobilized quickly and managed to provide most of their needs and ease, if only a little, the complexity and difficulty of the situation.
As time elapsed, our work became increasingly intense. In June, we joined the establishment of a municipal control center and became an integral part of it. Our close acquaintance with the community was critical to locating and assisting those who were ill or had to be in quarantine. It was also critical to our ability to convey the frequently changing restrictions and procedures to the community. It was important to us to speak personally with the hundreds of people who were sick and offer them support and assistance. Those were very long days at the office, when the line between day and night was often blurred. But I felt that our work was vital and of unparalleled importance.
Our regular work also continued with the thousands of community members who were financially affected by the pandemic. Throughout the year, Mesila's offices remained open for distributing food and other money-related assistance because countless families lost their livelihood and, being devoid of basic rights, their troubles only multiplied. Since the start of the pandemic, dozens of people have lined up next to our offices every day. All of them are facing tremendous hardship and are in need of assistance. One of the many meetings I had with them was unbearable for me. We were approached by a single mother with three small children who was fired at the outbreak of the pandemic. She had not been working for nine months and her landlord threatened to evict them as she was unable to pay the rent. I felt that the assistance we could provide was very meager given the woman's difficult situation, and that filled me with despair. However, coupled with those feelings, there are many days when I brim with pride because our door is always open to the community and many people come to us and find an answer to their hardship and pain. I also draw strength from the activists and leaders in the community who, despite their own personal difficulties, have been contributing their time and energy for many long months in order to help the members of their community and do so in an inspiring way.
In addition to dealing with the current state of emergency, we have continued the whole time to assess the needs of the community in all areas of their lives. Applying a great degree of creativity and flexibility, we have been trying to think ahead about what steps to take next.