TA Municipality vacates refugee shelter

Refugees told they will be bussed to Eilat and offered employment in the city's hotels.

Sudanese 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Sudanese 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Tel Aviv Municipality officials on Sunday evacuated and sealed off the Lewinsky Park bomb shelter in south Tel Aviv that has served as refuge for dozens of African refugees. Eyewitnesses said they saw municipal officials throw mattresses and appliances out of the shelter and onto the ground in the park. The same witnesses said the officials also removed the six outdoor toilets adjacent to the shelter. The toilets have been unusable for weeks due to municipal neglect and were a source of potential disease. About 250 African refugees loiter around in the park on a daily basis waiting for employment opportunities or assistance from volunteer groups. About 130 African refugees were taken out of the park Sunday, loaded onto buses and sent to Interior Ministry offices in neighboring Holon, where 95 of them were given work permits and sent to work in hotels in Eilat and farms in the South. The rest were not given work permits, as their presence in Tel Aviv violated the terms of their residence in Israel - they are allowed only north of Hadera or south of Gedera. That stipulation was created to encourage refugees to find work in hotels and farms in the periphery, to keep them away from the overcrowded conditions in Tel Aviv. Eyewitnesses who spoke to the refugees said the Africans had not been warned in advance that their shelter would be closed. The refugees were told that they would be bussed to Eilat on Sunday and be offered employment in the city's hotels. Arom, 22, from Sudan, confirmed that he was boarding a bus to Eilat to take up a work offer. About seven bomb shelters around Lewinsky Park in South Tel Aviv are filled to the brim with African refugees. Conditions in the unsanitary shelters are deteriorating, with disease spreading along with fire hazards. The Lewinsky Park shelter was especially unsanitary, as it had no ablution facilities. Yehiel Mahdoun, who manages the municipality's social services in the southern part of the city, said the municipality had lost track of those refugees who were denied work permits on Sunday. Mahdoun said that the 30 or so refugees, mostly from the Ivory Coast, had probably made their way back to the Lewinsky Park-area bomb shelters. The municipality's strategy is to eventually close down all the shelters in the city's South, as they represent a "social and medical time-bomb," according to Mahdoun. Mahdoun said that stringent Interior Ministry regulations on granting work permits to illegal refugees was slowing down their plans. There are currently about 8,000 African refugees in Israel, 6,000 of whom arrived in 2007. Over 1,000 African refugees made their way to Israel in the first three months of this year alone. Many of them are in the Ketziot refugee transit camp in the South, where they are provided with adequate conditions, but no prospect of employment or development.