Refugees open Tel Aviv homeless shelter for asylum seekers
After two days of operation it is already housing 120 people.
The recent cold weather and even colder attitude of the authorities to the asylum seekers living in Tel Aviv's Levinsky Park have motivated fellow refugees from Darfur to set up a temporary shelter for their Sudanese compatriots.
The Sons of Darfur organization, founded by Darfurian migrants, opened the shelter earlier this week in the central bus station area. After two days of operation it is already housing 120 people. On its second day, 60 people who had just been released from Saharonim Prison were taken in. The shelter can barely hold 150.
It is hoped that giving the migrants a place to stay will help them find work and a more permanent place to live. Aid organizations are warning that unless the state intervenes, the park will be the scene of a humanitarian disaster. A homeless Ethiopian migrant was found dead in the park last week.
"There are days when the rain doesn't stop and people have nothing over their heads to protect them," says Ismail, a Sons of Darfur member who manages the shelter. "We've seen people in the park in very tough, depressing circumstances and fainting from hunger, and we wanted to do something that would help."
The shelter, which had once been a bar serving Eritrean migrants, is still lit with ultraviolet light, and old balloons can still be seen near the ceiling. On the floor, which doesn't look like it has been washed since then, people lay on thin mattresses wrapped in blankets.
"It's just the beginning, so there's still a lot of equipment missing," said Ismail. "We'd love to have an oven, freezer and dry food for people who sometimes haven't eaten in days."
Ismail says that although thicker mattresses would be more comfortable, they "take up a lot of room, so they aren't an option. We prefer thin mattresses or even sleeping bags, so there will be room for people who want to sleep here."
The shelter was rented with contributions from working members of the Darfurian migrant community. Rent is NIS 12,000 a month, for which they get a hallway and four walls. "We've paid for this month but I couldn't tell you where we'll get the money for next month," said Ismail. "We'll have to find a solution. No one in this country seems too bothered by people living in the street, so we'll have to take care of them."
On the shelter's second day, volunteer doctors from Physicians for Human Rights came to the shelter, to examine those living in the park and the shelter. In the hallway leading to the shelter, some of the refugees are being bandaged. According to the doctors, some of the injuries they are treating occurred during the trek from Sudan to Israel, and apparently were not treated properly in Saharonim Prison.
"I examined a man here with gangrene in his toes, that was the result of a neglected wound. We sent him immediately to the hospital," said Dr. Rafi Walden, the deputy director of Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, and the son-in-law and personal physician of President Shimon Peres. "It's shocking that in a welfare state like ours, people are sleeping in the cold and rain, and not because they are disturbed homeless people," said Walden. "These are people who are creative and want to work."
"The worst thing about this is that we're talking about something that's 100 meters from us, and everyone is ignoring [what's going on in their] backyard," said Dr. Bella Kaufman, director of the breast cancer unit in Sheba's Oncology Institute. "The denial is unbearable."
Last week, Assaf - the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel - wrote to the directors-general of the social services and health ministries, to Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai, and to the head of the Population, Immigration and Border Authority, Amnon Ben-Ami, warning them of a looming humanitarian disaster.
The letter received no response from the ministries or the Tel Aviv municipality. The Population, Immigration and Border Authority told Assaf that while these migrants would not get work permits, enforcement in these instances is lax.