An Israeli organization that helps children of asylum seekers has won a 2016 Human Rights Prize of the French Republic, France’s most important human rights award. The group, Elifelet – Citizens for Refugee Children, won the award that goes to a small number of organizations worldwide each year.
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A year ago, following complaints from some South Tel Aviv residents and right-wing activists, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told the army to halt a program under which soldiers were volunteering for the organization.
“We are aware of the context in which Elifelet and other organizations work to help migrants and asylum seekers. We know this isn’t a popular topic. In France, too, it’s a complicated subject,” said French Ambassador Hélène Le Gal at an event in her Jaffa home on Tuesday.
“It’s one thing to set immigration and asylum policy, which is every country’s right, but it’s another thing to care for basic human needs, like those of children, without regard to their immigration status or parents’ status. A child is a child and must be cared for no matter what.”
Journalist Yael Gvirtz founded Elifelet in 2012 after a south Tel Aviv apartment that was home to asylum seekers was firebombed. It now has about 250 volunteers who help care for 1,000 babies and young children, mainly of asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan, in 26 south Tel Aviv day care centers.
The organization also runs three programs that aid 75 at-risk children. It is funded by donations and does not receive state support.
Gvirtz says the asylum-seeker situation in Israel “is not the result of a real crisis like what Europe is coping with, but of a political crisis that was created here.” She says that in Israel “there is a lot of harassment; we work in very difficult conditions. It’s incredible that helping children could be considered controversial.”