(photo credit: Courtesy)
I have a friend who, in certain circles, is considered a bleeding heart liberal. She is a leftist and a strong believer in human rights. However, when we discuss the situation of refugees from Darfur and Erythria in Israel, even she can't straightforwardly say that Israel should support them.
The debate regarding refugees in Israel boils down to two stances, one that we must take care of our own before others; and two, "Never again" does not refer to Jews alone.
Romm Lewkowitz, one of the local organizers of Refugee Day observed around the globe on June 19, is a believer in the latter of these two opinions. However, he explains, these two notions need not conflict. "The main thing we are asking from Israel is to allow the refugees to submit their status requests," says Lewkowitz, who is also from the foreign workers support center.
"Not all of them want to become Israeli citizens. Many of them wish to go back to their home countries once the crisis are over. But all of them wish to receive a working permit and be allowed to search for a job so they won't be a burden on society. Many of the refugees are educated professionals who can be productive elements in Israeli society."
Refugee Day's slogan is "Real People, Real Needs." Lewkowitz hopes that Refugee Day will help Israelis to understand what this slogan means. "The main purpose of the event is not to ask for donations. Rather we want people to meet the refugees, get to know their cultural life and rich traditions. We want people to have a good time. Not weep. "
To the aim of said good times, Refugee Day in Tel Aviv is celebrated with performances by Asaf Avidan, Alma Zohar, Cohen@Mushon and refugee bands from Sudan and Ghana. Other attractions include DJ Yano playing world music and an ethnic food fair prepared by the refugee community from which all profits go directly to various refugee support organizations. Additionally, there is a screening of films made by sons of refugees and an exhibition of photographs taken by refugees.
As this copy of Billboard goes to press, there are 17,000 refugees in Israel.
According to international law, a person recognized as a refugee is protected from deportation from the host country. At least until it is safe for him to return home.
Only 70 refugees here have been recognized as such. The rest are temporary residents, a status which is re-examined every two years. Furthermore, despite their official recognition as refugees, they receive no support from Israel, as opposed to in other countries.
"This situation cannot continue," says Lewkowitz. "Israel has to decide what to do with the refugees. Right now, not only is it not helping, we are actually making their lives more difficult. All the refugees are only allowed to live and work north of Hadera and south of Gedera. Because of this, the majority of Israelis, who live between these two cities, are not exposed to the refugees, and the problem is swept under the carpet. We are holding Refugee Day in Tel Aviv so that Israelis are exposed to those real people and their real needs."
Refugee Day takes place today, June 19, from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Tel Aviv's Gan Levinski.