New Israeli show tackles African refugees, crime and murder

Yes series 'Asylum City,' set in south Tel Aviv, brought drama and suspense to headline events.

SEAN MONGOZA, Hani Furstenberg and Mali Levi star in 'Asylum City'  (photo credit: OHAD ROMANO/YES)
SEAN MONGOZA, Hani Furstenberg and Mali Levi star in 'Asylum City'
(photo credit: OHAD ROMANO/YES)
A corrupt attorney. A secret foreign ministry report. A dark underworld of corruption, human trafficking and blackmail in south Tel Aviv. A murder.
Israeli TV dramas are known to rip their storylines from the headlines. And Yes – the Israeli TV provider behind the smash hit Fauda - is working at it again with its latest show, Asylum City.
The series, which premiered last week, is set in south Tel Aviv, and focuses on two Israelis – Michal and Itay – who work at an NGO which supports African asylum-seekers. While they struggle to offer legal, financial and social aid to the community, they are aware of the many forces at play. Government officials purportedly stretching the law to allow deportation. Gangsters exploiting the tenuous situation. Police willing to look the other way and ignore crimes in Tel Aviv’s unsavory neighborhoods. The tensions among the community, where one migrant may turn on another for the promise of cash.
But Michal, played by Mali Levi, is unwilling to look the other way. And by the end of the first episode, she is found dead, murdered inside her apartment. Detective Anat Siton, portrayed by Hani Furstenberg, is tasked with solving the brutal crime.
Who killed Michal? Was it Gabriel, an African refugee desperate to find the money to free his sister from her Bedouin kidnappers? Was it Yariv, a state attorney (and ex-boyfriend) Michal accused of corruption and of illegally hiding documents from the court? Could it have been the a mafia hit, by those angry at Michal for sticking her nose where it didn’t belong?
The show is based on a novel by the same name by Liad Shoham, directed by Eitan Tzur and written by Uzi Weil. And the actors on the show include African refugees who are intimately familiar with the lives of those who fled violence to end up in south Tel Aviv.
Sean Mongoza, who portrays Gabriel, was born in the Congo and came to Israel at age 5 as a refugee. Michael Afwarky – who plays the role of Armi, was born in Eritrea and fled to Israel eight years ago.
“People in our situation, some of them, will do anything for a little money,” says Armi, a refugee who works to advocate for the community, in the show’s first episode. “The police and the immigration officers – they all know this. You give someone 500 shekels, somebody will come and say whatever you want them to.”
The series has gained praise in the Hebrew media for its even-handed portrayal of the controversial and tense situation in south Tel Aviv. Yediot Aharonot said the show “does not hit you over the head with idealism,” Mako said it “succeeds in being both current and realistic, and suspenseful on almost a trashy level,” and Haaretz called the series “the best Israeli show of 2018.”
Asylum City airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on Yes EDGE and is also available on Yes VOD.