Groups Sue, Claiming Refugee Kids in Eilat Face Discrimination

Petition submitted by various human rights organizations accuses authorities of discriminating against refugee children on a racial basis.

Refugee children in Eilat are separated from Israeli children and sent to an abandoned, unsafe facility where they do not receive adequate schooling, says a petition filed to the Be'er Sheva District Court yesterday against the Eilat municipality and Education Ministry.

The petition, submitted by the Assaf aid Organization for Refugees, Tel Aviv University's Refugee Rights Clinic and the Hotline for Migrant Workers, accuses the authorities of discriminating against the refugee children on a racial basis.

Sudanese refugees in Eilat - Olivier Fitoussi - July 2011
Olivier Fitoussi

Some 50 children from Sudan and Eritrea living in Eilat, who have been in Israel several years and speak Hebrew, are not admitted to state-run schools and sent to a derelict facility near Kibbutz Eilot, which lacks the minimum conditions required of a school.

"The only criteria for the children's separation is the color of their skin, their race and their parents' status," the petitioners say.

The petitioners say Tel Aviv, Arad and other local authorities integrate the refugees' children in their regular schools. They demand an end to the children's discrimination in Eilat, which infringes on their basic rights for equality and dignity and deprives them of the education they deserve.

Refugee children of various ages are put together in the same classes, they have no orderly curriculum and the teachers have no teaching background or certificates, petitioners say.

The facility is unsafe, its grounds strewn with pipes, nails, exposed electric cables, shattered glass, scrap metal and piles of garbage. The children play unsupervised among the garbage piles and other objects. The only two toilet booths in the place are filthy, the toilet bowls and sinks are broken and there are no doors.

"It is hard to believe in Israel 2011 children, who are supposed to be in school by law, are refused and sent to a facility for black-African children," said Orit Rubin of Assaf.

The children don't like going to the facility, where they say they don't do anything. When children don't show up for months nobody notices or does anything about it, she said.

"This is criminal negligence, the potential for a full lifetime is destroyed by a racist, injurious policy," she said.

Education Ministry director general Dr. Shimshon Shoshani replied to the organizations' complaint last month, saying that the ministry had "instructed the Eilat municipality to take care of the Sudanese children in its jurisdiction. Every child, even a refugee or one whose parents are illegal migrant workers, is entitled to education services."