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Africa Day

UPF-Israel Commemorates Africa Day

Tel Aviv, Israel - Recent years have seen an influx of African refugees and asylum seekers streaming to Israel through the many loopholes of the Egyptian-Israeli border. Risking their lives in a long journey through the deserts and paying handsomely to smugglers, they finally arrive to the Promised Land. Then reality strikes. They find themselves crammed in small run-down apartments in south Tel Aviv with no source of income. The lucky ones get small menial jobs; some are pulled into the crime scene, and most walk around aimlessly.

Israel, a small nation which is trying to cope with huge security issues, finds itself unprepared to deal with this social time bomb that breeds growing racism among the lower-class Israeli neighborhoods. On this severe social backdrop, several volunteer Israeli organizations were formed to offer aid to those refugees. Among them stands out ASSAF (Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel). The organization mainly deals with refugees coming from Sudan and Eritrea.

Jeremy Jordan, Secretary General of UPF-Israel and his wife Chikako, set out on May 28 for a special visit in support and appreciation of ASSAF's work. In commemoration of Africa Day 2012, representing UPF-Israel, they offered a special award to Mrs. Michal Pinchuk, the Director of ASSAF. Also present was Mrs. Merav Bat-Gil, the Resource Development Coordinator. Their offices were completely filled with refugees seeking help when the delegation entered, and there was a crowded meeting going on when they left.

Mrs. Pinchuk explained that there have been almost one thousand refugees arriving in Israel per month totaling over 70,000 presently in the country. ASSAF receives a small allowance from the UN and small donations from other supporters. She continued to explain that few people around the world know of these refugees' plight as only the conflict between Israel and Palestine is commonly understood. The Israeli government, she explained, in order to not encourage more refugees, has tried to prevent their entrance to Israel by constructing a fence across the border with Egypt and is building a detention center to hold 10,000 refugees. The refugees are neither given refugee status nor working permits, and many are in considerable economic difficulties, especially as the government has placed them in Tel Aviv, where they face many conflicts with the local population.

Several approaches were discussed, such as the experience of Hong Kong, which received so many refugees from Vietnam in the 1970s that they put them to work and created an economic boom. Perhaps with more financial aid from the UN and other organizations, and support to help move numbers of these refugees to other countries, their plight can be resolved; also the Israeli government can be encouraged to lend a helping hand. Furthermore, if the UN could help stabilize countries like Sudan, then refugees would be glad to return to their homes.

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