Five babies of African asylum seekers died in ad hoc daycare centers in South Tel Aviv over the past eight weeks, and dozens more reportedly died in similar unsafe, overcrowded and unsanitary ad hoc centers under similar circumstances over the past two years – all while the government of Israel failed to do anything to protect those children or help.
5 Babies Of African Asylum Seekers Die In Ad Hoc Daycare Centers In Tel Aviv Over Past Two Months, Government Slow To Act
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
A four-month-old baby of African asylum seekers died Sunday in an ad hoc day care center in Tel Aviv, only 48 hours after another baby of African asylum seekers died in a different ad hoc day care center located nearby in the Hatikva neighborhood of the city. Ha’aretz reported that the latest victim, a child of child of Eritrean refugees, “was found lying on his stomach, after several hours during which he had apparently been neglected by caregivers.”
Three other babies of African asylum seekers died in similar South Tel Aviv ad hoc daycare centers last month and dozens more reportedly died in similar ad hoc centers under similar circumstances over the past two years.
Approximately 2,500 children of African asylum seekers under the age of three are cared for in about 70 such ad-hoc daycare centers in South Tel Aviv, a poor area of the city where African asylum seekers have congregated. The ad hoc daycares are unregulated and often unsafe, with extreme overcrowding and understaffing common. Centers are often moldy and unkempt, and sometimes also lack basic amenities and food. Staffing is so poor that babies sometimes lie in their beds for entire days at a time without anyone checking them.
For years, local charities have been warning about the danger to these refugee babies and toddlers, but the government has repeatedly refused to take any action to protect them. But activists hope the recent spate of infant deaths linked to these ad hoc daycares will finally force the government to act.
The day-care center in which the latest baby died is visited by members of Mesila, a refugee assistance organization operated by the city of Tel Aviv.
However, Mesila – which just recently started visiting that particular ad-hoc daycare center – lacks a proper budget or supervision from the national government, which generally turns a blind eye and deaf ear to the needs of African asylum seekers, so much so that Israel has drawn sharp international criticism from refugee aid groups, the UN, and international charities.
Israel refuses to grant these asylum seekers refugee status, even though they almost all qualify for it under international law. Thousands of applications from these African asylum seekers still sit unprocessed in government offices, many for several years, and far less than 1% of those who have applied have been given refugee status. Many others were harassed by Israel’s immigration police after applying or as they sought medical help at the country’s only medical clinic meant to serve them, and government officials have used openly racist language to describe the asylum seekers as they insisted Israel must remain an ethnically Jewish state.
Thousands more African asylum seekers have been illegally imprisoned in a remote desert prison camp called Holot near the Gaza border. Israel’s High Court of Justice has repeatedly ruled the camp is an illegal prison, but the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to close it.
Mesila reportedly says it is flooded by the need and by the demand, and only only one overwhelmed social worker oversees dozens of these unregulated daycare centers.
Mesila also operates three supervised and regulated daycare centers for children of asylum seekers, refugees and foreign workers it opened and runs jointly with the City of Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality. The first of those regulated daycare centers opened in 2005. All three now serve a combined number of 350 children. The daycare workers there get special training and supervision, and there are educational workshops for the children’s parents, as well.
Mesila would like to expand this program and open more daycare centers, but to do so for all African asylum seeker children would cost about 20 million shekels ($5 million) – money the city apparently does not have and that the national refuses to provide. So activists are reportedly trying to raise money from philanthropists as they also look for potential government grants to cover the cost.