Israeli City Illegally Blocking Children of Asylum Seekers From Its Schools

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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Students on a staircase at a high school in Lod, 2015.
Students on a staircase at a high school in Lod, 2015.Credit: Eyal Toueg
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

The city of Lod has illegally refused to allow the children of asylum seekers living in the city to study in local schools, at the direction of Mayor Yair Revivo, Haaretz has learned.

Since the beginning of the school year, families of asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan who moved to Lod last year have not been allowed to register their children for municipal schools and preschools as required by the law on compulsory education. In some cases, the parents were offered to register their children at the Arab schools in the city, even though they speak Hebrew and not speak Arabic.

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At least nine children have not been registered for school or preschool for the last half a year. In recent months, the University of Haifa’s clinic for education and law has been trying to aid the families with registration, but it has not been successful so far. As of now, the directive preventing registration does not apply to asylum seekers who have lived in the city for more than six months.

The city confirmed that in recent weeks it was decided not to allow the children of asylum seekers to study in local schools. This step violates both Israeli and international law, Education Ministry regulations and court rulings – all of which require the provision of equal educational services to all children regardless of origin, skin color or legal residency status. The law on compulsory education applies to every child living in Israel, regardless of their legal residency status, or that of their parents.

The city of Lod said: “We will not register the children of illegal infiltrators beyond the average [number of children of asylum seekers registered in] all Israeli cities. It seems people have forgotten that we have given up a long time ago on the title of ‘the backyard of the [central Israeli] Dan region.’ When in Ra’anana and Herzliya the number of children of the infiltrators reaches that of Lod, we will continue to register them on the condition that the government budgets for the special costs of integrating them.”

These are not the children of parents residing in Israel illegally – they are the children of asylum seekers who have valid residency permits from the Population and Immigration Authority. They are asking for asylum in Israel because of the danger they face in their countries of origin.

Official figures from the Education Ministry show that the number of students in Lod whose parents are asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan rose to 162 for the present school year, compared to 98 in the last school year. Other cities in the center of Israel have similar numbers of children of asylum seekers enrolled this school year, such as Ra’anana (67 students), Rehovot (103 students) and Netanya (155 students).

Senior officials in the Education Ministry were recently informed of Lod’s refusal to register the children. The head of the ministry’s central district, Varda Ofir, sent a warning letter to Revivo last week, saying that Lod has the obligation to act according to the law concerning all students in the city. Ofir asked to city to “act immediately to assign and register all the students living within the borders of the city of Lod, according to the law, without any distinction based on their status in Israel.”

The city must also register the children in the appropriate schools based on the language they speak, she added. The Education Ministry asked the city to update it by Sunday as to the registration and assignments of the students and warned if it did not receive a full update, including a list of names of all the students, the ministry “will consider taking appropriate action according to its legal authority.”

‘We didn’t want to bother anyone’

One of the cases that reached the legal clinic was of a family that moved from Tel Aviv to Lod in recent months. In spite of many requests, the family’s three children were not assigned to schools for months – and in December the parents received an offer to register their children in Arabic-speaking schools. After the family refused because their children do not know Arabic, the city told them that they would receive an answer to their enrollment request. This didn’t happen and the children are still not registered. “The children are at home all the time, they aren’t learning, I don’t know what to do,” their mother told Haaretz. “We only wanted to live in peace and not bother anyone.”

Another family moved to Lod in July. They say they went to city hall a number of times – most recently about a month ago – and were asked if they preferred to register their daughter for an Arab or Jewish school. After saying they preferred a Jewish school, they never heard back from the city.

Attorney Haran Reichman of the University of Haifa’s legal clinic has contacted the municipality several times over the last few weeks, warning that “a situation in which these children haven’t been enrolled in city schools for such a long time constitutes a clear violation of the law and a denial of their right to education.” He also told the municipality that it couldn’t force families to enroll their children in schools that don’t teach in their preferred language.

“One of the basic elements of the right to education is the right to suitable education,” he wrote. “The families want to educate their children in the Hebrew language, and until now the children have studied in Hebrew-language schools.”

He has yet to receive any answer to his letters.

“It’s sad to see the mayor of Lod trying to set new records for racism,” he said. “But like several other mayors who tried to deprive the children of asylum seekers of their basic right to education, Lod’s mayor will learn that it won’t work. It’s high time for the Education Ministry to invest appropriate resources in integrating asylum seekers into the school system.”

Over the years, Israeli courts have made it clear to various municipalities that they cannot discriminate against the children of asylum seekers with respect to education. When the Eilat municipality sought to send asylum seekers’ children to a separate school outside the city “due to their special needs,” Be’er Sheva District Court Judge Rachel Lavi-Barkai said that segregated education is illegal, adding that the Compulsory Education Law applies to every child in Israel regardless of his or her legal status.

“Granting legitimacy to an arrangement involving educational segregation based on the children’s country of origin and legal status is unprecedented in the Western world, and we will not lend a hand to it,” she wrote in her 2012 ruling. “The children committed no sin by coming here.”

Netanya, under pressure from the Central District Court, scrapped a segregated preschool for the children of Eritrean asylum seekers in 2019, deciding instead to disperse them among various other preschools in the city.

And this past November, that same court granted a petition by 130 asylum seekers living in Petah Tikva who said they had been barred from enrolling their children at municipal schools. That ruling obligated the city to commit to enrolling the children “in an integrated manner, so that foreign children and Israeli children aren’t in separate frameworks.”

Last month, Haaretz reported that the Tel Aviv municipality was also separating foreign children from Israeli ones at its schools, with the result that 91.5 percent of asylum seekers’ children in the city were studying in schools that didn’t have even a single Israeli student. The municipality claimed at the time that enrollment was based solely on where the child lived. But in recordings obtained by Haaretz, a city official admitted that “we built schools for the foreign population.”

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