Israeli Municipality Blocks Children of Asylum Seekers From Enrolling in School

All children residing in Israel have a right to education, regardless of their legal status, Education Ministry stated in 2000

A family of asylum seekers demonstrates in front of the Petah Tikva Municipality, Israel, July 9, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

A central Israeli municipality has refused to enroll 129 children of Eritrean asylum seekers in the city's education system, a lawsuit filed Tuesday against the city and Israel's Education Ministry shows.

According to the petition, the Petah Tikva municipality prevented in January dozens of families of asylum seekers from enrolling their children under various bureaucratic pretenses, and refused to allow parents to present documents to the municipality as proof of residence, which would prove their children’s eligibility for educational services.

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The lawsuit, filed by attorney Haran Reichman of the Law and Education Policy Clinic at the University of Haifa, on behalf of the children and the Assaf Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel, reveals a smokescreen of rejections on the part of the municipality.

In March, following the queries of two asylum seeker families, the municipality said that they will open a special enrollment system for the children, claiming that it would allow them better make arrangements for the children who have no permanent status in Israel.

"Enrolling [the children] closer to the beginning of the school year will best represent the situation expected to be once the school year begins," the municipality said.

The Ministry of Education got involved in the issue, and the head Tel Aviv education department, Haya Shitai, demanded that the municipality enroll the children immediately, “with no consideration to their background or status in Israel.”

Despite Shitai’s instructions and ongoing complaints to the municipality and Education Ministry throughout the months of April, May and June, the municipality did not allow parents to enroll their children. A letter that was sent to Education Minister Rafi Peretz in June remained unanswered, and the Education Ministry has not given any updates on what has been done to advance the process of enrolling the children.

A memorandum from the director general of the Education Ministry from 2000 states that the compulsory education law applies to all children living in Israel, regardless of their legal residency status. The document states that this also applies to the children of foreign workers who are of the age for compulsory education who reside in Israel, without any connection to their parents’ formal status. The Education Ministry, local governments and school principals are responsible for providing a full education according to their needs, states the Education Ministry document.

In September 2016, a group of dozens of children of asylum seekers filed a suit to register the children in the municipal school system. As a result of the suit, the city promised to register all the children of asylum seekers living in the city in the school system.

The present suit claims that although the children were placed in educational frameworks, it was done through discrimination and separation. “Many of the children were assigned to four separate preschools, which were intended for children of African origin. Even though the preschools are called by impeccable Israeli names they are characterized by inferior conditions in terms of size and they suffer from poor maintenance.”

In addition, after school educational frameworks do not operate in these preschools, “it seems because of the great number of children whose parents cannot afford the financial burden.”