Israeli City Won’t Enroll Children of Asylum Seekers in Schools, Flouting Court Ruling Again

Petah Tikva also refused to register the children last year, capitulating only after a court ordered it to do so. One parent argues 'the municipality says we’re not legal and wants to remove us,' but the city insists families provided no proof of residence

Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg
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Asylum seekers protest the city's refusal to allow their children to enroll in school, Petah Tikva, July 9, 2019.
Asylum seekers protest the city's refusal to allow their children to enroll in school, Petah Tikva, July 9, 2019.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg

The Petah Tikva municipality is refusing to register children of asylum seekers in the city’s schools and preschools, in defiance of a court ruling from last year and the Education Ministry’s demands.

Around 130 parents from the city’s asylum seeker community have complained to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, saying their children haven’t been registered even though they started the process in January and have submitted all required documents.

The city also refused to register the children last year, capitulating only after the Central District Court ordered it to do so. The court later found the municipality in contempt because it didn’t comply with the ruling’s timetable.

Last week, ACRI demanded that the city register the children. “The sorry history of registering children of asylum seekers and migrants in Petah Tikva and the severe harm done to them, alongside the regrettable fact that this year as well, registration problems are already evident, indicates that the city once again plans to break the law,” it wrote.

It also demanded that the Education Ministry intervene urgently and said it plans to petition the court.

“We went and registered for school but they weren’t given places,” said Melion, a mother of three. “No Eritrean has yet received a placement, as far as I know. The other preschool children have gotten placements.”

She said she called the municipality, and “they said they were clueless. When I said the Israelis had received placements and we hadn’t, they told me, ‘Wait, we don’t have an answer.’ That was also their answer last year – to wait.”

One of her children has 30 Israelis in his preschool class, she added, and all have received placements for next year. But none of the five Eritrean children have.

Haya Shitai, who heads the Education Ministry’s Tel Aviv district, also demanded that the municipality “immediately place and register all the children living within Petah Tikva’s jurisdiction, in compliance with the law, without any distinction based on their legal status in Israel.”

In her letter, she noted that the Compulsory Education Law grants every child in Israel the right to education regardless of whether or not they are legal residents. She also cited last year’s court ruling and a ministry directive on migrant children issued in 2000 that said that “regardless of their parents’ formal status, the Education Ministry, local governments and school principals shall grant these children a full education according to their needs.”

“Our fear is that the municipality is doing this to us on purpose, once again,” said Potur, an asylum seeker with three children. One of his children will start first grade in September, but hasn’t yet been placed in a school.

“The municipality says we’re not legal and wants to remove us from the city,” he added. “This is part of the plan; that’s how it applies pressure. I haven’t yet told the boy; I don’t want him to sense this now. There’s summer vacation, there’s a little more time; we’ll see what happens. I want him to feel like he belongs, like everyone else.”

Tal Hassin and Haran Riechman, the ACRI lawyers representing the families, said in a statement, “It’s astonishing to see that the systematic racism displayed by the Petah Tikva municipality and its mayor runs deeper than their sense of reality. Time after time, the court has ordered them to register asylum seekers’ children in preschools and schools. They incur costs, ignore it and also lose in the contempt proceedings. That’s what will happen this time, too. Not one child will be left without a school placement.”

The municipality said that “school placements in the city are carried out comprehensively, for all applicants, once they have proven that they’re residents of the city. In this case too, once the checks have been completed and it’s clear that they are indeed Petah Tikva residents, the students will be placed accordingly. Even today, much of this population has already been placed in city schools based on their place of residence as submitted to the authorities.”

But ACRI disagreed. “The asylum seekers gave the city documents proving their place of residence on time, and none was asked to provide additional documents,” it said. “Many of the children are already known to the municipality. Nevertheless, they haven’t received placements.”