Tel Aviv Police to Start Speaking Asylum Seekers’ Language

Tel Aviv police will set up a small police station in Levinsky Park with officers who speak Tigrinya, in order to serve asylum seekers

Seder for Refugees at Gan levinsky in Tel-Aviv
Daniel Tchetchik

Tel Aviv police are setting up a small police station in Levinsky Park to serve asylum seekers. It will include policemen who speak the African language Tigrinya, which is spoken by Eritreans, the dominant group among asylum-seekers. Tigrinya-speakers will also be assigned to the police station in the Hatikva neighborhood. 

According to the police, one of these police stations’ main missions will be to take complaints from asylum seekers and to promote dialogue between the asylum-seeker community and police. 

Until now police had not tried to locate and assign policemen who speak the African language to the area; this decision was made now because it is understood that the asylum seekers are not leaving the country any time soon. Moreover, police believe that under any future scenario, whether it involves deportation or some other arrangement, south Tel Aviv will continue to be a focal point for those asylum seekers who remain in Israel.

“We cannot say that this population doesn’t exist; these people exist and they are here,” said Yiftah precinct commander Cmdr. David Filo. “It’s a net police interest to give them police services, primarily to facilitate governance.”

According to police figures, since the beginning of 2018 there has been an increase in the number of violent and criminal incidents among asylum seekers in the south Tel Aviv area, after a significant decline in 2017. The police attribute the increase to the discontinuation of administrative measures, in particular the closure of the Holot detention facility and the halt to sending asylum seekers to Saharonim Prison. Today, the only sanction the legal system has available against this population is criminal enforcement – arrests and indictments. 

The data reveal that the vast majority of asylum seekers’ crimes are directed at other community members – fights, theft and domestic violence. Filo said people in the communities need someone to turn to for protection. 

The Yiftah precinct has recently had to cope with violent confrontations within the Eritrean community between those who oppose the Eritrean regime and the minority who support it.