Story

Eritrean Asylum Seekers in Israel

Rachel

Rachel injured her hand while working as a cleaner in a private home in Tel Aviv. Unable to work for over a month at the time our interview was conducted, she had concerns about being able to provide for her two children, especially since she is a single mother. Image by Caron Creighton. Israel, 2018.

Rachel injured her hand while working as a cleaner in a private home in Tel Aviv. Unable to work for over a month at the time our interview was conducted, she had concerns about being able to provide for her two children, especially since she is a single mother. Image by Caron Creighton. Israel, 2018.

Eritrean Women's Community Center

The Eritrean Women's Community Center in Tel Aviv, Israel, is a grassroots organization run by Eritrean women. It offers translation services and help with many issues asylum seekers face in Israel. Their services are largely targeted toward women and single mothers. Image by Caron Creighton. Israel, 2018.

The Eritrean Women's Community Center in Tel Aviv, Israel, is a grassroots organization run by Eritrean women. It offers translation services and help with many issues asylum seekers face in Israel. Their services are largely targeted toward women and single mothers. Image by Caron Creighton. Israel, 2018.

Mesgena

Mesgena (who chose to withhold his last name for privacy reasons), was an asylum seeker from Eritrea living with his wife and four small children in a one bedroom apartment in Tel Aviv. A victim of torture when crossing the Sinai to reach Israel, he was able to receive refugee status in Canada. He and his family were relocated to Toronto in late July. Image by Caron Creighton. Israel, 2018.

Mesgena (who chose to withhold his last name for privacy reasons), was an asylum seeker from Eritrea living with his wife and four small children in a one bedroom apartment in Tel Aviv. A victim of torture when crossing the Sinai to reach Israel, he was able to receive refugee status in Canada. He and his family were relocated to Toronto in late July. Image by Caron Creighton. Israel, 2018.

Strollers

A number of unregulated daycares in south Tel Aviv exist mainly for the use of asylum seekers. In past years children have died because of unsafe conditions in similarly understaffed daycares. The women who care for the children are passionate about childcare and the service they offer to an underprivileged community, as they are immigrants themselves. But they are also aware that the standards of their daycares need to improve. Image by Caron Creighton. Israel, 2018.

A number of unregulated daycares in south Tel Aviv exist mainly for the use of asylum seekers. In past years children have died because of unsafe conditions in similarly understaffed daycares. The women who care for the children are passionate about childcare and the service they offer to an underprivileged community, as they are immigrants themselves. But they are also aware that the standards of their daycares need to improve. Image by Caron Creighton. Israel, 2018.

Felicia

Felicia (who chose to withhold her last name for privacy reasons) works at an unregulated daycare for the children of asylum seekers in south Tel Aviv. Several years ago she received valuable education and assistance from outside organizations in order to improve the conditions in her daycare. Image by Caron Creighton. Israel, 2018.

Felicia (who chose to withhold her last name for privacy reasons) works at an unregulated daycare for the children of asylum seekers in south Tel Aviv. Several years ago she received valuable education and assistance from outside organizations in order to improve the conditions in her daycare. Image by Caron Creighton. Israel, 2018.

Throughout my reporting this summer, I met a number of individuals within Tel Aviv’s Eritrean asylum-seeker community who shared their stories with me. The interview that I feel had the greatest impact on me was actually one of the first.

I met up with Rachel Berhane at a café in south Tel Aviv in early July. Rachel is a single mother with two young children, and she told me about the difficulty she faced trying to provide for her kids after sustaining an injury that prevented her from working.

Rachel works as a cleaner in private homes and is paid in cash. As an asylum seeker, this provides her with some degree of freedom, since 20 percent of her salary isn’t deducted from her paychecks when she is working unofficially. But this also makes it more difficult for her to receive assistance from worker’s rights organizations that provide help to people who have been injured on the job.

When we spoke, Rachel had been unable to work for over a month due to her injury, but she still volunteered her time as a translator for an aid organization once a week.

“Now I’m not working almost one month and a half because of my hand. I need to get help,” she said, while explaining her difficulty trying to get assistance from worker’s rights organizations.

According to Rachel, her visa says that she can’t legally work in Israel, which is why she initially sought out a cash-based income.

“If we are not working, how can we live?” she said. “Nobody helps us, it’s really, really difficult.”

Rachel shared her story of leaving Eritrea with her husband 10 years ago. She said that she didn’t choose to come to Israel, but simply traveled with her husband through Egypt and crossed from the Sinai into Israel to seek safety after fleeing their repressive government.

Rachel is Pentecostal and says her religion was one reason she chose to leave.

“In Eritrea there is no democracy, and you cannot believe [in] all religion[s],” she said. “I’m Pentecostal, you cannot believe in this religion [in Eritrea].”

The freedom to practice her religion in Israel allows Rachel a degree of independence.

“Here you can believe whatever you want,” she said. “But in our country [Eritrea], if you believe in Pentecostal, or if you speak about this, they will put you in prison.”

Over the past year asylum seekers in Israel have undergone a number of ups and downs, including ongoing talk of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda or another third country. The confusion has left Rachel and others in similar positions feeling unwelcome in Israel, and questioning their future.

“I hope soon it will change,” Rachel said. “I feel not good, especially with the children, because they’re born here, they know everything here. When you deport us…it’s not good especially [for] the children.”