City flounders as refugees pour in

The Tel Aviv municipality says it is unable to cope with the influx of African refugees.

Hundreds of African refugees have flooded into Tel Aviv in recent weeks and the city is finding itself unable to help them, reports the Hebrew weekly Yediot Tel Aviv. Mayor Ron Huldai has written to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert asking for assistance, and local organizations and charities are being pushed to the limits. And just as the crisis deepens, one of the city's four shelters for African refugees closed down last week, reportedly because of complaints by neighbors. According to the report, hundreds of refugees from Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia and the Ivory Coast have poured into Tel Aviv in recent weeks after being released from detention in southern Israel, and many have been left without any official assistance. One shelter for refugees was forced to close down after the owner refused to renew the rental contract to the charity running it because of neighbors' complaints. And the municipality's NIS 170,000 budget for refugee assistance has run out. In his letter to the prime minister, Huldai wrote that the African refugees are a "national problem" and that the municipality cannot deal with them all by itself. The report said there are currently some 2,000 refugees in Tel Aviv, 200 of whom arrived in the past week alone, and that about 1,000 more are waiting to be released from detention in southern Israel. About 300 refugees currently in Tel Aviv have no place to stay and are being housed and fed by local organizations, including 30 refugees who are being put up in a Scouts youth movement building in north Tel Aviv and 46 who are being housed in an artists' studio in Givatayim. "The country is not prepared to absorb the refugees and did not expect this situation," one of the Givatayim artists said. "At the moment, no one is helping us at the ministerial or municipal level, and the burden is all on the artists and the students, who do not have high incomes. We hope in the coming days that the refugees will find work and will be absorbed in other places."