African migrants meet with housing activists

South Sudanese refugee expresses common fear that if African migrants appear at protests, they'll be branded as economic migrants.

African migrants meet housing protesters_311 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
African migrants meet housing protesters_311
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
At Levinsky Park in southern Tel Aviv on Monday, where the city’s second largest tent city has stood for nearly a week, over a hundred African migrants and refugees gathered for a discussion on the ongoing quality- of-life protests taking place across Israel.
As the sun set over the Neveh Sha’anan neighborhood, the migrants from Eritrea, Sudan, the Ivory Coast and Congo listened to representatives from the refugee assistance organization “ASAF” describe how the protests started and what the participants are demanding from the government of Israel. In a back-and-forth discussion held in English, Hebrew, Tigrinya, French and Arabic, activists and migrants discussed what, if any, role the migrants could play in the protests.
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William, from South Sudan, expressed a common fear that if African migrants were seen to be taking part in social protests against the government, they would be branded as economic migrants.
“Israeli people are complaining about their house rent and I was afraid if we identify with this they will say we are coming for work when we are coming as refugees. I was afraid they would say that they are complaining about this because really they are just economic migrants.
“But I don’t want people to say that we are complaining about money, what we want is to stay in a safe place, but we also don’t want to have to sleep outside,” he said.
William also described how expensive his rent is, and in particular the money he had to pay in agency fees, building maintenance and rent itself. He said that renting a room in an apartment near the old central bus station for NIS 2,000 per month can require an initial investment of NIS 6,000.
In regard to what the tens of thousands of African residents of Tel Aviv play in the city’s shortage of apartments, he said “people also blame us because there are many Africans here and there are no apartments, but the rooms [we live in] are very small and I don’t think an Israeli person would agree to live in a very small room for NIS 2,000 a month. Even in Egypt. When I lived in Egypt I didn’t find rooms like that.”
Khaled, also from South Sudan, said the economic problems facing him and other migrants are not new, saying “we have a problem with housing, it’s a lot of money for us to pay for rent here, but we don’t want to come out and protest that it’s too much because then they’ll show it on television and the next day tell us ‘go home.’ “I make 4,000 per month and by the 18th of the month I have no money.”
He also described how he often doesn’t get paid on time, and that he is afraid that if he complains he will be told or forced to leave Israel.
Shahar Shoham from Physicians for Human Rights, said she and other activists were taking part in the discussion because “if we’re going to talk about homeless people, this is the neighborhood with the real homeless people. There are all types of groups who are now shouting and expressing their problems, and the refugees have some of the worst problems of all.”
When asked if in her experience they seem to understand what it’s about, she said “that’s one of the reasons this was organized, they see the tents but I don’t think that most of them understand what’s going on.”