Migrants from Africa waiting on line to register as asylum seekers.
Migrants from Africa waiting on line in Tel Aviv to register as asylum seekers. Photo by Ilan Assayag
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Tens of thousands of African asylum seekers in Israel are confused and frightened when they hear the siren warning of an impending rocket attack.

Refugees in Tel Aviv say they have received no instructions on what to do under attack. Those in detention centers in the south say the instructions are not clear and the fortified rooms are often locked up when the siren goes off.

The main problem among the thousands of refugees concentrated mainly in Tel Aviv’s southern neighborhoods is the absence of instructions in their own language.

Gabriel Sekela, a refugee from Eritrea living with his family in south Tel Aviv for seven years, told Haaretz, “This is a new experience for us. Like everyone else, we’re frightened when bombs go off, but we don’t know what to do when the siren is heard. We’ve received no help from the authorities.”

“During the day the children are in kindergarten where there’s a protected space, but later we’re all at home. We didn’t know we had to go out to the stairwell,” he said. “Now a friend told me that when the alarm sounds we have to go to the stairwell, but we haven’t received any official instructions on what to do.”

Sekela said most people don’t understand the news or know what is happening. “We saw there was information from the army on Facebook in Tigrinya [spoken by many Eritreans] and spread it, but I don’t know how many people got it,” he said.

The Holot detention center in the Negev has protected rooms, and prison authorities posted instructions in Arabic on how to act in an emergency. However, Sadik, a refugee from Sudan incarcerated there, says confusion is considerable.

“There are small protected rooms but often during the sirens they are locked. They call out instructions through megaphones but only in Hebrew, not very clearly and not everyone understands. Before the siren they held a drill but not many people took part. I told the guard that I heard a drill had been held but the protected rooms aren’t open. He said it was only a drill and isn’t important,” he said.

The Israel Prison Service, which operates the Holot detention center, said the “claims are groundless. … The Holot center was planned for emergency situations with numerous protected rooms in every part. During an alarm, instructions are given on loudspeakers in Hebrew, English and Tigrinya. Before this operation we held several drills and the Home Front Command’s instructions are posted on the notice boards. No rockets were fired in this direction and we had only one false alarm, but the facilities are prepared for any scenario. The protected rooms are usually locked up ... and when an alarm sounds the prison guards nearby unlock them and let the internees in.”

The Tel Aviv municipality said it is prepared for emergency throughout the city, including the asylum-seekers’ areas mainly in the south. “Every municipal service such as protection, evacuation and assistance, if needed, will be given any person in the city’s jurisdiction,” the statement said.

The municipality said it provides the migrants with details on how and what to do in an emergency and intends to distribute leaflets in Hebrew, Arabic, English and Tigrinya in the next few days.