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African Refugees and Israel: A personal and activist story by Yonatan Glaser Director BTzedek A new generation of leadership.

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Presentation on theme: "African Refugees and Israel: A personal and activist story by Yonatan Glaser Director BTzedek A new generation of leadership."— Presentation transcript:

1 African Refugees and Israel: A personal and activist story by Yonatan Glaser Director BTzedek A new generation of leadership

2 Prologue Before the Holocaust my family lived in Austria. Fearing the rise of the Nazi Party, my grandfather looked for his long-lost Uncle Borer in Australia. Finding his address, Grandpa wrote asking for help. The reply came, offering to sponsor my grandparents and my then 8-year old father to Australia. My grandfather hid the papers, hoping the Nazi threat would pass. One night, at risk to his own life, a non- Jewish friend knocked at my grandfathers door. Glaser, I have seen your name on the list of people to be rounded up.", he said, Take your family and get out by tomorrow". My grandparents took their son – and the papers – and fled for their lives. Arriving in Australia, they discovered that the letter to Uncle Borer had actually gone to The Borer and White Ant Extermination Company. The owners had not understood the letter and had it translated. Owing us nothing, they nonetheless decided to sponsor my family to Australia.

3 Two acts of moral bravery – by the German friend and by the Australian business owners - saved my family. Fast forward: my father grew up, got married, my parents had me and my two sisters. I grew up, went to college, decided to move to Israel, got married. My wife and I now live in Jerusalem with our three children.

4 In the summer of 2007 I read about asylum seekers from Darfur, Sudan and other African countries coming into Israel over the Egyptian border.

5 These pictures were drawn by members of the community to show the reality they experienced in Darfur and elsewhere in Africa.

6 In 2006, some 350 Africans sought refuge in Israel; in 2007 through to mid 2008, that number grew to over 8,000. African asylum seekers meet Israeli soldiers at the border, 2007

7 In the summer of 2007, my daughter and I took food to a park where asylum seekers were staying. We learned they were due to be taken to jail the next day. My family decided to invite a family into our home to save them that fate.

8 The following is a record of what transpired in my life and the lives of some of these African refugees since that time. It is also an invitation to support the work of BTzedek to create a more moral, coherent and sustainable set of policies for Israeli society and the Jewish people in relation to the refugees in Israel and worldwide.

9 Without sponsorship, this family of 6 from Darfur would have been sent to prison. We knew nothing about them before we collected them from the public park where they were staying.

10 Immediate members of their family had been murdered. One of the children had been shot; the father had been jailed and tortured. The family staying with us had experienced horrific events first hand. We got on very well and enjoyed getting to know them. So did our kids. Slowly, we learned of their incredibly difficult past.

11 The children had never been to school or seen a doctor. In Cairo, they all the time stayed in the tiny apartment they shared with 2 other families to avoid being beaten on the streets.

12 Due to lack of sunlight, the children had Vitamin D deficiency, which badly affected their health.

13 We exchanged life stories … and recipes.

14 Friends came to visit. A new experience unfolded for the family; living without being at immediate risk and without fear.

15 The press took an interest

16 A summer picnic in our garden. So normal in an abnormal situation…

17 The family that stayed with us are 6 of the 500 people from Darfur given temporary resident status. At one level, they are now doing ok. They live in a rented apartment in Tel Aviv and the children go to school. The father has opened a center for people from Africa. Here he is…

18 He offers internet services and teaches English and computer skills. He is active in the community of Darfur refugees in Israel. The faces of the students are covered due to their concern about the possibility of reprisals to their families back home

19 Yet Israels story of the African refugees does not so far have a happy ending. Those coming into Israel are jailed for lengthy periods. Once freed, they are vulnerable and lack access to basic services. Threats of sudden expulsion add to their trauma at a time when we should be helping to heal it. Israels lack of coherent policy about the refugees status and rights puts them in a twilight zone of uncertainty. This destroys their dignity, morale and hope. Israels lack of policy puts Israel itself at risk, for we are very effectively creating tomorrows social crisis.

20 When my father died, we received no help and my mother was sad because she had to look after us all the time. I want to make my mother happy and to make her think less about my father. Akor, 17 years old The following photos are from an art project in which teens documented how they feel about being in Israel.

21 My name is Amal and I will tell you about my life. I left my country because of the government. Everyone who came here from Southern Sudan has the same problem. People who came from Egypt got very tired of the Egyptians who are very bad (to us) on the street, in the hospitals and in lots of places. In Egypt, Sudanese children dont go to school. The Egyptians dont want to help; they kill people in the street and in their homes. Because of this we came to Israel. Amal, 16 years old

22 I really miss Sudan; first because it is my (historic) homeland and second because I was born and grew up there. I hope that one day I can return to my birthplace in South Sudan. Omot, 16 years old

23 I appeared in the press, on TV and on panels with members of Knesset. Our children were even interviewed for a popular childrens magazine. Links to the items on BTzedeks website.

24 BTzedek participated in the coalition of organizations to help the refugees. To help the general public, politicians, media and policy-makers better understand the refugees, BTzedek worked with university students to interview refugees and write their life stories. BTzedek was asked by the Coalition to set up a multi-agency task-force to develop a policy proposal for the government. The group we led developed policy recommendations we now seek to promote.

25 We have a moral responsibility to help. We must do everything we can, though we cannot solve this international problem alone. We must not send back to their country of origin people genuinely seeking asylum in Israel. To ascertain their true status, their background must be thoroughly checked by the internationally accepted standards. We must create a comprehensive, legal and just system for handling asylum seekers, including arrangements for sustenance, health and housing. We must severely limit the use of jail detention. We may fast track those who are clearly not refugees (in accordance with International and Israeli law) and send them back. We must name the number of refugees we will look after, long-term, and arrange with other countries to take in the others. We must pressure Egypt to improve conditions for the refugees living there. We, Israel and the Jewish people, must engage in international activism to reduce the number of people who become refugees and to secure the rights of those who do. For details, see The Policy Guidelines for Israel and the Jewish People in brief:

26 BTzedek wants to expand its impact on behalf of refugees and Israeli society. Please join us in this effort. With your help, we will actively engage and empower youth, students and communities in Israel and across the Jewish world to advocate for better policies. We will also provide web-based materials: our policy recommendations with background and educational materials refugees personal stories, and suggestions for how to impact politicians and policy- makers.

27 Please help in any of the following ways: Donate to help us make a difference: credit card or othercredit card other Pass this on to your friends Add your name to our campaign list Together we can make a difference. Yonatan Glaser Director BTzedek Further information at

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