Eritrean Refugees Find New Home in Drug House

For the past week, the building on 1 Finn Street in Tel Aviv, near the old central bus station, has been home to Eritrean refugees - in addition to addicts, prostitutes and drug dealers. The main entrance, which leads to the top floor and an inner courtyard, had been padlocked for the past month. A week ago it was opened, after its rooms were renovated; they are now being rented to the refugees. Two other entrances lead to the inner courtyard and, from there, to the section of the top floor where drugs are still being pushed. Addicts, prostitutes and dealers continue to live and work there.

The building's main entrance and stairwell have been painted, covering up the blood spatters caused by needles, and hung with pictures. The rooms, whose doors have been painted a uniform brown, are rented to the Eritrean refugees for NIS 1,600 a month.

Avi Nagar, who claims to be the building's owner, says: "I am going to renovate the other part as well and get all the addicts out. I want to change the building's population. The refugees pay their rent."

Around noon, C. a 34-year-old Eritrean refugee, comes back from his cleaning job. He moved into the building a few days ago and shares a room with five other Eritrean refugees. "In the culture I come from there are no drugs," he says. "It's frightening, but we have no other housing solution," he says of his Finn Street residence.

A 22-year-old woman holding an infant peeks out from a nearby door. She says she has been in Israel for a year and used to live in a "terrible" immigrant hostel. "We've been here for three days and I'm afraid to go out," she says. "People are knocking on my door all the time, thinking I am a prostitute or asking for drugs. My partner is at work and I'm shut in here with the baby, who has a lot of health problems and I have to protect him."

Finn 1 is a death-trap for prostitutes - shelter, work and drugs in one and the same place. The addicts, who know no one else will rent them a room, pay about NIS 150 a day for a room and from NIS 25 to NIS 50 five times a day for their fixes.

Dallal, a prostitute and an addict, admits that she has not noticed her new neighbors, the refugees. She did hear that the landlord wants to evict the addicts.

The Welfare Ministry says its personnel have been to 1 Finn and "offered assistance dozens of times," but had been refused.

The Tel Aviv Municipality says it cannot take responsibility for housing addicts, "out of fear that they will overdose and endanger themselves." The city also says that because 1 Finn Street is privately-owned, the municipality cannot interfere with who lives there. However, the city says it has been to the building a number of times and offered all the addicts rehabilitation. "Some accepted and some refused to cooperate. The municipal workers will continue to visit the place to allow every addict to enter rehab," the municipality said.