At the UN, Israel Boasts of High-tech Vocational Program for Refugees It Doesn't Fund

The plan aims to integrate 15,000 asylum seekers in high-tech and to graduate 50 people a year in the next three years, but did not get support from the state

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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Participants to a program to integrate asylum-seekers in the high-tech industry.
Participants to a program to integrate asylum-seekers in the high-tech industry.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

GENEVA – Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva boasted Wednesday at the Global Refugee Forum about an Israeli project to integrate asylum seekers in the country’s high-tech industry, despite the fact that the government has refused to fund the program.

The African Refugee Development Center operates the program to give African refugees and asylum seekers living in Israel three months’ training with the aim of integrating them in the labor market.

The plan aims to integrate 15,000 asylum seekers in high-tech and to graduate 50 people a year in the next three years.

Since 2010 the civilian national service program Sherut Leumi has allocated one teaching position to the nonprofit organization. The slot was canceled in July. In August the NGO’s appeal was turned down, and next month it plans to appeal again, in the Jerusalem District Court.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres attend a press conference during the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva, December 17, 2019.Credit: AFP

The appeal was rejected on grounds that the courses have not been approved for adult education as required by law. In recent months the state has revoked licensing for national service counselors for several organizations including the Hotline for Refugees and Immigrants and Kav La’Oved – Worker’s Hotline for the Protection of Worker’s Rights, based on new criteria set by former agriculture minister Uri Ariel.

Aviva Raz Schechter presented Israel’s achievements in aiding asylum seekers and provided details about the plans developed in Israel “directly by the authorities or its “active civil society.” A link to the plan was posted on the Foreign Ministry website.

Schechter added that Israel is committed to the principle of “no one left behind” and places special emphasis on “caring for asylum seekers who are protected by the principle of non-refoulement” and therefore cannot be expelled.

She said Israel has absorbed large numbers of immigrants throughout its history, including hundreds of thousands of refugees from around the world. Last year the state canceled, a day after it was signed, a deal with the UN to relocate half the asylum seekers in Israel to Western countries.

Schechter said all children were eligible for education from the ages of 3-18, as well as free health care and emergency services. But the National Insurance Law does not apply to asylum seekers and they cannot get care until their conditions are life-threatening. A 2014 state comptroller’ report said the narrow approach toward health care for asylum seekers violates the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty and an international charter on economic, social and cultural rights.”

Ori Lahat, the head of African Refugee Development Center, told Haaretz that “the absurd conduct of the state cries out to the heavens. We can do without the state bragging about our activities and would prefer to see it stop torpedoing our efforts to continue to ask instead for it to Israeli social and economic development and the asylum seekers as well. The government is also aware that refugees and asylum seekers can continue a lot to Israeli society and economy.”

Sherut Leumi said it feels it has “not been rejected but its request was postponed pending approval of the instructions related to the new law.”

The forum drew to a close Thursday amid commitments made over the past three days by governments, international organizations, businesses and other stakeholders to benefit the lives of millions of refugees.

In all, more than 770 pledges have been made in areas including school places for refugee children, job opportunities, new government policies, access to clean energy, improved infrastructure and support for host countries and communities.

There were also major financial pledges, including some $2.2 billion pledged by the World Bank Group and $1 billion by the Inter-American Development Bank. A range of countries and other stakeholders pledged financial support for refugees and their host communities of over $2 billion.

The private sector also offered substantial commitments, with more than $250 million pledged by business groups and initiatives launched that will lead to at least 15,000 jobs being made available to refugees. There will also be some 125,000 hours per year of pro bono legal counselling.

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