A 7-month-old baby girl died in an unsupervised day care for the children of asylum seekers in south Tel Aviv Thursday morning. The cause of death has not been officially determined but it is believed the infant choked to death.
The police are investigating, but at this point neither foul play nor negligence is suspected.
The day care has 20 children, with two caregivers, in the morning. An additional 20 children arrive in the afternoon, with no additional staffing.
Haaretz has learned that Tel Aviv has failed to used 70 percent of the funding it received four years ago to upgrade such facilities, known derogatorily as “child warehouses.”
According to testimony by the two women caring for the children, one of them fed the baby and put her down to sleep; she began to cough in her sleep and then had a seizure. The woman called for help and paramedics took the baby to Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, where her death was declared.
Haaretz found that Tel Aviv municipality was allocated 56 million shekels ($16.2 million) from the state to establish day care centers for the children of asylum seekers living in the city. According to the municipality’s own figures, only about 18 million shekels has been spent. Moreover, only about 570 children were placed in new, properly supervised facilities. Around 1,500 are still cared for in around 85 “child warehouses” in south Tel Aviv.
Since the city received the funding four years ago, it has opened only five new centers, which are operated by private entities under municipal supervision. The first four have 100 children each. The fifth, which opened two months ago, with only 30 children, is not yet full.
At least seven children have died in unsupervised child care frameworks since 2015.
According to the city, of the 18 million shekels spent, about 6 million went for renovations and another 12 million were used for operations. The municipality says it has not moved more quickly because of the difficulty in finding suitable premises to renovate for child care centers in south Tel Aviv.
Child care facilities for the children of asylum seekers’ are usually operated by women who are themselves asylum seekers or migrants and who are not trained child care workers. Due to the large number of children, the condition of such premises puts the lives of hundreds of children in danger.
In a written statement, the municipality expressed condolences to the family and said it could not comment on details because the case was still under police investigation. ”The Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry is responsible for frameworks for children under 3 years of age. However, due to the lack of solutions for children without official status in this age group, hundreds of [unsupervised frameworks] have entered the picture operated in residential apartments by members of the community. It is believed there are some 85 frameworks with about 1,500 children.”
The city said it was aware of the situation but had no authority to intervene “except to voluntarily assist private day care centers it is aware of by providing guidance, volunteers and community work with the parents.”
Citing the five centers the city opened and the 18 million shekels spent, the statement went on to say that the city “is constantly working to find additional suitable buildings for children without status in the city, but it must be remembered that this is not a simple task in these neighborhoods because of the lack of suitable structures.”
The Refugee Rights Forum, an umbrella group of refugee and asylum seekers’ organizations, said in a statement that “Another girl died in Tel Aviv today. We don’t know the cause of death yet but it is impossible to ignore the high rate of baby deaths at these ‘babysitters’ over the years, and the severe safety risks in these facilities are known to the authorities. Children of asylum seekers are dying because of the intentional government policy that abuses them and their parents, denies then basic services and pushes them into a life of poverty. The Tel Aviv municipality did not create the problem, but it can save the lives of these children and immediately open more supervised day care centers with the funds that were allocated to it for exactly this purpose.”
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