Migrants at Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Park 390.
(photo credit: Tamir Kalifa)
Jacob Beri remembers the 10 nights he spent sleeping in south Tel Aviv’s
Levinsky Park in the chill of winter in January 2008, when he arrived in
A slight 24-year-old Darfurian with a thick British accent, Beri
said the experience is one of many that inspired him to re-open a shelter last
week to help the hundreds of African migrants sleeping on the streets of south
Tel Aviv during the coldest, wettest month of the year.
Beri is one of
the leaders of the Sons of Darfur organization, which he said pooled together
the money to reopen the shelter, which closed in 2010 due to a lack of funding
and unwanted attention from authorities.
The shelter costs NIS 12,000 per
month to rent, with municipal tax and electricity included, Beri
The facility, which he said houses 150 to 200 homeless migrants,
includes two large rooms, bathroom and showers and a long hallway where the
manager registers migrants checking in to the facility.
Those working at
the facility go around the neighborhood telling migrants about the shelter, and
also help teach them about their rights in Israel and offer advice on dealing
with Israeli authorities, Beri said.
Still, he said the shelter’s main
purpose is to provide a roof over their heads.
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“Arranging visas and the
rest is the business of the government; we are here to help people with whatever
we can. There is rain and cold and they have no option about where to go,” he
He added, “They [Israeli authorities] take you from the [Egyptian]
border to Tel Aviv and they just drop you off in Levinsky Park and you’re just
Early Tuesday afternoon, there were only a few men were inside the
shelter. A couple of them washed their feet and faces in a sink, while a few
meters away two men conducted the afternoon Muslim prayers on two
The shelter is stuffy, needs a serious scrubbing, and is lit by
fluorescent lights left over from when it was a bar frequented by Africans.
Still, despite its less than posh interior, the shelter looks like it would be a
warm place to turn to at night for the migrants whose blankets and clothes were
piled high against the walls on Tuesday.
The shelter opened a few weeks
after a homeless Ethiopian-Israeli, Yohanes “Yonatan” Barko, died of exposure in
Friends said Barko had spent much of the summer sleeping
in a tent in Levinsky’s protest encampment, but had returned to a park bench
after the tent city was dismantled by Tel Aviv Municipality clerks in
Beri said Barko’s death had motivated him and others in the
community, who mobilized to open the shelter, saying that they “didn’t want to
hear any more bad news.”
Beri hopes to keep the shelter open until the
warmer summer weather begins, but said that he doesn’t know where the money for
rent will come from.
“I don’t have enough money, but I have no choice, I
can’t send them outside to the streets,” he said.
The Tel Aviv
Municipality spokesman said on Monday that it operates three shelters that
provide food and lodging for homeless people – a womens-only shelter, one for
male drug users, and one for recovering male drug users.
provides treatment for around 700 homeless people, with a significant portion of
them receiving help in finding housing and employment, the spokesman said.
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