Second Refugee Baby Dies in Two Days at Tel Aviv Day-care Center

NGO activists hope that after 5 deaths in recent weeks, city will ratchet up efforts to fund, oversee facilities serving offspring of working asylum seekers.

Orly Vilnai
Orly Vilnai
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The day-care facility in which the baby died on March 29, 2015.
The day-care facility in which the baby died on March 29, 2015.Credit: Moti Milrod
Orly Vilnai
Orly Vilnai

Another baby has died in a South Tel Aviv day-care center for children of asylum seekers. The cause of death remains unknown.

The baby, about four months old, died on Sunday, less than 48 hours after doctors declared the death of another baby in a nearby center in the city’s Hatikva neighborhood. The latest victim was found lying on his stomach, after several hours during which he had apparently been neglected by caregivers.

Three infants died in South Tel Aviv day-care centers in February, in addition to the dozens who have reportedly died under similar circumstances over the past two years. The latest casualty, like many of the other victims, was the child of Eritrean refugees.

The unregulated, ad-hoc centers, which the refugees call babysitters, are the default solution for asylum seekers and migrants who work and have no other framework for caring their children. As a result, dozens of infants and toddlers are frequently kept in overcrowded, often-moldy rooms – sometimes without either proper food or any basic amenities.

Some of these little ones even spend entire days or weeks in the centers. Moreover, in the wake of a lack of sufficient manpower, babies reportedly lie in their beds for entire days on end, without anyone checking up on them.

There are an estimated 70 such facilities in South Tel Aviv, caring for around 2,500 children aged 3 or under.

The day-care center in which the latest disaster occurred recently started to be visited by members of Mesila, a refugee-assistance organization operated by the city of Tel Aviv. However, because of lack of a proper budget and supervision by the state, Mesila officials say they are drowning in a sea of responsibilities. Thus, only one social worker is tasked with overseeing dozens of these facilities, and is struggling to carry out her work.

For years, such local NGOs have been warning of the daily danger to these refugee babies and children. The deaths of five of them within such a short amount of time will hopefully spark a major change, activists now say.

Government officials have been holding marathon meetings with Tel Aviv officials in recent days about this dire situation. During them, a proposal was raised to replicate Mesila's existing UNITAF model – that of a supervised day-care center jointly established by the NGO and the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality for the offspring of refugees and foreign workers. The first such facility was opened in 2005, and two more have opened since, now serving 350 children. The city helps run these centers, workers there undergo special training and supervision, and the parents also attend educational workshops.

Another 20 million shekels ($5 million) are needed to implement the model for all refugee children. Raising such funds will clearly require bringing on board philanthropists, and finding public sources of other financing. Some efforts at raising money have already begun.

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