(photo credit: Courtesy)
MK Danny Danon, chairman of the Knesset's Committee on the Rights of the Child, called Wednesday morning for the reversal of the policy requiring refugees to settle in the periphery, implying that the strategy has failed.
Known as the Hadera-Gadera policy, it bans refugees from living anywhere south of Hadera or north of Gadera. When refugee-seekers are caught entering Israel and detained, they sign a conditional release promising that they will not settle in that region.
However, their best chance for obtaining jobs, housing, education, medical care and other necessary services is Tel Aviv, squarely within the boundaries of the forbidden zone. Many have opted to move there despite the restrictions, resulting in the country's largest refugee community.
There's an enormous disparity between the options available for refugees in Tel Aviv and in cities in the periphery, most notably Arad and Eilat, where they are supposed to settle, Sigal Rozen, public policy coordinator for Hotline for Migrant Workers, said on Wednesday.
"It has a lot to do with the attitudes of society around them," she said. "There is a lot of hostility toward the refugees in Eilat. No one is trying to assimilate them into society. In Tel Aviv there are many more asylum-seekers and the population of Tel Aviv treats them much better."
The metropolis is more welcoming because it has dealt with large migrant populations for many years and is accustomed to handling different needs, Rozen said.
Owners of apartments are willing to rent to people without a bank account, insurance or guarantees. The city's educational system is one of the few with the resources to deal with large numbers of foreign children. Employers are willing to give jobs to refugees even if they don't have the proper paperwork. There are free clinics where they can receive medical care and several human rights organizations working on their behalf, Rozen said.
"There's no reason to restrict people from living in an area that is more capable of accepting them," said Shevy Korzin, executive director of Hotline for Migrant Workers. "Other cities are not exactly happy to receive these people."
The Tel Aviv Municipality has worked hard to accommodate the pressure that refugee children have placed on educational resources. When there was no room left in schools in south Tel Aviv, the municipality arranged for them to be transported to schools in the northern part of the city, she said.
However, as authorities began enforcing the Hadera-Gadera policy, many refugees fled Tel Aviv to cities in the periphery.
Simon Mayer, a Sudanese refugee, moved to Hadera a few days ago after authorities in Tel Aviv, where he had lived for several years, told him to leave or risk going to prison.
In Hadera he has so far been unable to find someone willing to rent him an apartment at an affordable price. Most want him to pay extra money as a guarantee, something that landlords in Tel Aviv rarely required.
He said he has also had trouble finding a job because his papers do not allow him to work legally. Although in Tel Aviv employers were willing to look the other way, that has not been the case in Hadera.
"It's so different. I can't rent a house and I can't work. How can I live without work? I don't know what the government wants from us," Mayer said.
The population of Arad has swollen because of the influx of refugees from Tel Aviv.
"Five percent of Arad's residents are refugees who settled in the city and are developing a subculture of their own. We are expected to absorb the refugees, but we are not given budgets or tools to do so," Eliezar Bar-Sadeh, a representative of the Arad Municipality, said at the Knesset committee meeting on Wednesday.
Children who arrived in Arad during the 2008/09 academic year were not allowed to enroll in classes because schools could not accommodate them. In Eilat, the Education Ministry has set up a separate school for refugee children outside the city where they study in Arabic and don't follow the Israeli curriculum, Rozen said.
"Children coming into Tel Aviv have at least some kind of chance of getting into the educational system," Korzin said.
She cited one case in which a mother moved from Tel Aviv to Arad with her two sons to comply with the policy.
One of the children is blind and in a wheelchair. Although in Tel Aviv he was able to attend a special school for children with disabilities, in Arad he has to stay at home. He is cared for by his nine-year-old brother, who has been unable to find a school, while his mother works.
"It makes sense for families to be in Tel Aviv. People just aren't accepting to them [elsewhere]," Korzin said.
"This has terrible effects on refugees and specifically those with children. They get into a terrible state. They become even more dependent."
Rebecca Anna Stoil contributed to this report.