Refugees, Migrant Workers’ Aid Requests in Tel Aviv Soar Amid COVID

The pandemic has dealt a particularly heavy blow to asylum-seekers who lost their jobs and are not entitled for government benefits

Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg
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A closed shop in south Tel Aviv during Israel's third lockdown, last year.
A closed shop in south Tel Aviv during Israel's third lockdown, last year. Credit: Hadas Parush
Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg

Asylum seekers and migrant worker’s aid requests have more than doubled in Tel Aviv during 2020, a report by the city’s aid and information center for migrant workers and refugees, Mesila, shows.

The number of cases soared from 4,150 in 2019 to 9,869 in 2020 and requests for financial aid climbed by more than seven times from 916 in 2019 to 7,010 in 2020.

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This report comes only two months after a survey, conducted by the Health Ministry and Tel Aviv Municipality, has showed that about 85 percent of asylum seekers in Tel Aviv are said to be suffering from food insecurity, and more than half of them showed signs of actual hunger.

The coronavirus landed a devastating blow to the city’s asylum seekers. Most of them are not entitled to government benefits and were left without a job following the closure of restaurants and hotels, in which most of them work, due to the pandemic restrictions.

At the peak of the crisis, 80 percent of the households in the community had no income, and during the months of June, July and August 2020, at least one breadwinner in half of the households was unemployed.

Vaccination clinic in south Tel Aviv, in February.Credit: Hadas Parush

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai has expressed his concerns regarding a humanitarian crisis this community faces.

Mesila said that the number of requests for food, diapers, baby formula, rent and health insurance grew 1,020 percent in 2020. From March, when COVID-19 restrictions were imposed, the center distributed 12,305 food coupons, 4,357 food packages and 2,083 packages of diapers.

Ori Levi, a community social worker at Mesila, said she felt helpless in the face of the soaring demand. “A single-parent, mother of small three children, was laid off and couldn’t pay her rent came to us. I felt that the aid we could give her was so little in comparison to her difficult situation that I was filled with despair,” she said.

But Tel Aviv’s refugees and migrant workers have faced more than just financial struggles. During 2020, some 1,200 children at risk had received treatment due to negligence, physical violence, sexual violence and extreme poverty – 26 percent of the children reported they were victims of parental violence. There was a 29 percent rise in incidents of violence against women, as nearly two thirds of the mothers receiving help by the center were single parents. In addition, 232 parents reported that they suffered from serious psychological problems, disabilities or disease.

Despite more recent data showing workers are returning to jobs, the city believes that the community faces a continuing crisis.

“The community as a whole, mainly asylum seekers, usually work in sectors that were almost entirely closed during the year. Because they don’t qualify for benefits if they’re on furlough or for any other help, it’s created an acute humanitarian crisis,” Mesila Director Miri Barbero-Elkayam said. “This community lives from hand to mouth,” she added, “but despite this, when they have work they survive.”

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