Social Affairs Ministry ends special French services for immigrants

One NGO says language barriers render welfare services inaccessible to immigrants.

Ariel Kandel (photo credit: QUALITA)
Ariel Kandel
(photo credit: QUALITA)
French speaking-immigrants will no longer be entitled to social services in their native language after the end of this year, the umbrella organization for French immigrants Qualita announced on Sunday.
The NGO appealed to Labor and Social Services Minister Haim Katz after receiving notification that a French-speaking service operated by the ministry will be terminated.
“Thousands of immigrants from France, including elderly citizens, children with special needs, single-parent families, female victims of violence, at-risk youth and more, won’t receive social services,” said Qualita CEO Ariel Kandel in a statement released on Sunday.
“2018 is just around the corner and the immigrants from France are concerned.”
The project was implemented by the ministry in 2015, in accordance with government decision 2446, but thus far the necessary funds have not been allocated for its continuation past the end of this year.
Dozens of employees trained under the program will be fired, according to Kandel, and thousands of new immigrants from France will be affected by the decision.
Kandel sent a letter to Katz asking the minister, on behalf of the immigrants from France, to continue the existing model in view of the need of the French immigrants to access vital services. According to Kandel, “There are currently some 100,000 French speakers in Israel, many of whom are new immigrants who still do not speak Hebrew, and there cannot be a situation where there is no solution for such a large population.”
Kandel explained that before the project was launched, many members of the French immigrant populations did not apply for welfare services because of the language barrier.
He told The Jerusalem Post that two years ago, amid a wave of immigration from France, the authorities understood that there were all sorts of populations coming from France, as opposed to the stereotype that all the immigrants from that country were rich.
He said that while it was common for staff working for the Social Services Ministry to speak English and Russian, French immigrants didn’t have the same advantage.
Therefore, a decision was made to open French-speaking services in cities where there are large populations of French immigrants, such as Netanya, Hadera, Jerusalem, Ashdod and Tel Aviv.
Kandel says the organization has not been given a reason as to why the project will not be renewed, but mused that it could be because the numbers of olim from France have dropped. The country topped the aliya charts in 2015 with almost 8,000 new immigrants.
But in 2016, that decreased to 5,200 and seems to have further decreased in 2017, with 2,904 arriving between January and August, according to the Jewish Agency.
But Kandel slammed this reasoning as “ridiculous” and noted that even if aliya is down now, large numbers have come from the country in recent years and the second and third years of aliya are usually the hardest. “For those who came in previous years, it’s not that they no longer need the services,” he argued.
“The project saved thousands of immigrants and greatly contributed to the absorption of French aliya,” he said in his letter to Katz. “The cancellation of the plan constitutes a step backwards, and I call upon the Minister of Welfare not to cancel the plan.”
A senior official involved in aliya efforts remarked: “What we are hearing from French immigrants is that they are encountering difficulties finding housing, work, and educational opportunities in Israel. This is not only causing some immigrants to return to France, but is also deterring others from coming. Surely the government’s response should be to further expand services targeted at French immigrants, not scale them back.”
As often occurs in such cases, the ministries responded by deflecting responsibility.
The Labor and Social Services Ministry told The Jerusalem Post that the project had been funded by the Ministry of Aliya and Integration.
“Despite our appeals to them, and to our great sorrow, the Aliya and Integration Ministry decided not to budget it in the future. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs intends to continue to pressure the Ministry of Aliya and Integration to continue operating the absorption project for the benefit of the immigrants,” the Labor and Social Services Ministry said in a statement.
The Ministry of Aliya and Integration, however, denied this, saying that according to the government decision, each ministry had received an additional budget for the implementation of special programs for immigrants from France, Belgium and Ukraine who immigrated between 2015 and 2016.
“Every ministry operated independently,” the CEO of the ministry, Alex Kushnir told the Post. His own ministry had, with the expiration of the project, examined the effectiveness of the programs and decided to continue them using its own budget, he said.
“This is what every ministry should do,” he said, adding that the Social Services Ministry must fund its own programs.
“In any event, the Ministry of Aliya and Integration is confident that the professionals in the Ministry of Labor and Social Services will not abandon populations that need attention, including the immigrant population,” he added.