Tempers flared in Tel Aviv on Sunday as protesters voiced anti-migrant sentiments during a visit of the Knesset’s Foreign Workers Committee in the city’s southern neighborhoods.
“Put them on trucks and send them back where they came from,” cried one resident.
“Get them out of our neighborhoods. Send them to Ramat Hasharon,” said another.
“We are afraid to walk the streets at night,” said a third.
The residents took advantage of the press presence covering the committee’s visit to vent their frustrations at what they see as a foreign invasion of their neighborhood and a disruption of their way of life.
The longtime residents of the Shapiro, Kiryat Shalom and Hatikva neighborhoods claim that the influx of foreign workers and asylum seekers to Tel Aviv in the last few years has come at their expense, raising rents and reducing the number of jobs, as well as introducing drug use and prostitution to the streets.
Committee Chairman Yaakov Katz (National Union) was the only committee member on hand to hear the residents’ complaints as none of the other committee members participated in the afternoon tour. He said that he regretted the comments, but could sympathize with the protesters’ feelings.
“These people are crying out from their hearts. The demographic make up of the neighborhoods has shifted. Their neighborhoods have turned into non-Jewish enclaves and their frustration is expressed in anger,” said Katz.
“This situation is the result of the government’s lack of policy regarding the entrance of foreigners, either as migrant workers or as asylum seekers, I urge Prime Minister Netanyahu to take care of what has become this country’s number one national problem,” Katz said.
The protesters also verbally attacked the representatives of human rights groups who accompanied Katz on the tour, accusing them of preferring foreigners over their fellow Jews and of hypocrisy, urging them to transfer the migrants to the city’s wealthier northern neighborhoods.
Some of the protesters also attacked the reporters, accusing them of being in cohorts with the human rights groups.
“They [the asylum-seekers] are deceiving everybody. They say they are victims of genocide, but in truth they only come here for jobs,” said Iris Cohen, a longtime resident of Kiryat Shalom.
“They come here because they hear it is like heaven here,” she continued. “The government does nothing to keep them out, so I don’t blame them. For them, life is good. I think the government should round them up on trucks and send them back to where they came from. There are plenty of Muslim countries. Let them take them.”
“I’m sorry to hear them say these things,” said Sigal Rozen from the Migrant Workers’ Hotline, a group that assists foreign workers and asylum-seekers. “Their anger should be directed at the state and not the poor refugees that fled civil war and genocide to come here.”
“They say these terrible things, but they never even bother to meet or get to know us,” said Oscar Olivier, a refugee from Congo. “I’m sure that if we sat down and talked calmly, many of their concerns could be addressed.”
Earlier in the day, Katz, together with Hadash MK Dov Henin and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, toured some of the aid projects sponsored by the city’s Mesila aid and information center for the foreign community.
The tour visited a private daycare center for children of migrant workers, one of many found across the city. In the center, the officials saw a kindergarten operating out of a two-bedroom apartment, where 30 small children between the ages of 0-3 spent 12 hours a day.
Mesila director Tamar Shwartz, said that because of lack of personnel,
the children spent most of the day in their cribs and that the lack of
personal attention created developmental problems for the children. She
said that since the mothers don’t get maternity leave, some of the
children left at the center were as young as two weeks old.
“The state is simply not present in these places. There is no
supervision of the ministries of Health or Welfare and it is only
because we in Mesila have managed to build up trust with the mothers
that we are allowed to go in at all,” said Shwartz.
The officials also visited a shelter for women asylum-seekers run by
the African Refugee Development Center. Situated in a run-down
apartment block near the central bus station, 45 people sleep in seven
“The conditions here are bad, as you can see. Pregnant women have to
share a single bed and children sleep on the floor because we simply
have no available rooms,” said Nic Shlagman, a new immigrant from
England, who runs the shelter.
“This place is intended for pregnant women and women with small
children. Roughly once a month, when the people are released from the
detention centers after crossing the Egyptian border by foot, we get a
rush of new cases we have to take in. We then have to urge the women
who are here to look for a new arrangement elsewhere.”
At Yarden primary school in the Hatikva neighborhood, the officials
heard from the principal, Yael Klein, about the changing ethnic make up
of the school. She told them that every year the children of foreign
workers make up a bigger and bigger proportion of the student body.
Tel Aviv City Councilman Shlomo Maslawi said that many parents of
Jewish students give false addresses so that their children can attend
schools in other neighborhoods.
Huldai said the city was doing its best to make sure all of its
inhabitants were taken care of, but stressed that assistance was needed
from the government.
“The first thing that the government has to do is close the border with
Egypt to prevent asylum-seekers from entering freely, but it also has
to present a comprehensive policy towards treatment of both
asylum-seekers and foreign workers.
“The two populations are often confused, but each has its own problems
and each population must be addressed separately and conclusively,”
said Huldai. “We in Tel Aviv are dealing with a national problem and
require a national solution.”