Israel Approves Millions for Day Care for Asylum Seekers' Children

Between 2010 and 2016, 10 babies died in unlicensed preschools used by migrant workers and asylum seekers. Israel decided to begin regulating them, but disputes persist about which ministry provides the funds

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An infant at a Unitaf-run day care center, 2015.
An infant at a Unitaf-run day care center, 2015.Credit: Moti Milrod
Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg

The cabinet approved Sunday the allocation of tens of millions of shekels to run day care centers for the children of migrant workers and asylum seekers in Tel Aviv.

The move followed the government's decision in 2015 to begin funding and supervising such centers after a state comptroller report described them as “child warehouses” and called their activities dangerous. Between 2010 and 2016, 10 babies died in unlicensed facilities used by migrants and asylum seekers. 

Since 2016, three children have died in these centers, and their number has shrunk dramatically. Today, according to the Social Affairs Ministry, there are thought to be around 20 of them.

Experts have said that there are significant developmental gaps between children who attend licensed day care centers and those who attend unregulated ones.

The measure approved by the cabinet allocates 7.5 million shekels ($2.4 million) a year for a period of four years from January 2023, for a total of 30 million shekels. 

Following the cabinet's approval of the measure, Labor and Social Affairs Minister Meir Cohen said that Israel "is a humane country and we are committed to the rights, welfare and security of all the children who are under our responsibility."

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, meanwhile, demanded that no funds from her ministry be used to regulate preschools for migrant workers and asylum seekers, though the cost was split among four ministries, including hers, under the 2015 decision.

Following her refusal, Cohen decided to make the budget the responsibility of his own office, which will allocate 20 million shekels over the next four years to the issue.

Shaked is also demanding a means test to ensure that only the truly needy attend the state-funded centers. She also wants the centers to go through a formal licensing process, and for parents to be required to present identification when registering their children.

The proposal the cabinet passed on Sunday allocates 30 million shekels over the next four years, to which will be added around 8 million shekels deposited by foreign workers and transferred to the Justice Ministry’s administrator general.

The proposal would grant the Tel Aviv municipality, which has funded kindergartens for children of foreigners for the last two years, 9 million shekels immediately. The rest of the budget will be transferred only after the welfare and justice ministries decide what requirements day care operators must meet to receive the money, whether parents will be required to present ID when they register their children and how a means test currently slated to take effect in January 2023 should be instituted.

This money will go to the nonprofit organizations running the day care centers. No decision has yet been made on whether some of it should also be allocated to opening new centers.

The Tel Aviv municipality recently urged the Interior Ministry, the Social Affairs Ministry and the Education Ministry to cross-check their data on foreigners’ children, since currently the data varies from ministry to ministry. This means the same child could have three different identification numbers – one for each system.

According to Knesset data, 3,480 children of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers registered for school in Tel Aviv this year. The Tipat Halav network of well-baby clinics counted 3,263 children of foreigners up to age 6, including around 1,400 aged 3 and under.

The number of foreign children in Tel Aviv is much higher compared to other cities in Israel. Eilat has the second-largest population of foreign children, with just 442.

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