Since September 2014, the Pastoral Care of Migrants ministry and the Saint James Vicariate have worked together to enable three-year-old-and-under children of refugees and asylum seekers to be appropriately cared for while their parents are at work.
by Calixte des Lauriers, Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, reporting from Tel Aviv, April 21, 2016
Although the State of Israel welcomes children of refugees to government schools, there is no government structure designed to accommodate children under three. This lack of infrastructure has led to the proliferation of primitive nurseries, where dozens of refugee and asylum seekers’ children are gathered into crowded apartments with dire sanitary conditions, while their parents go to work to provide for their family. In 2015, five children died in these barbaric nurseries, also called “baby warehouses”, victims of the very precarious conditions in which they are kept.
The Pastoral Care of Migrants ministry wished to find a partial solution to this problem. In Jerusalem, a nursery on a classic model welcomes 22 children daily. In Tel Aviv, the scale of demand has led Father David Neuhaus and his team to set up another host system for these young children. In collaboration with UNITAF, an NGO that develops small children home units, the Our Lady Woman of Valor Pastoral Center has adapted the idea of Aliza Olmert to allow these children to be welcomed in a pleasant, suitable and secure setting.
To date, 52 children are cared for daily by migrant women, from 7 am to 6 pm. The ministry gives each woman responsibility for 6 children. The majority of children are Eritrean, others are from Filipino, Sudanese, Indian or Sri Lankan communities. Two autistic children and one with Down’s syndrome are also cared for and given special attention.
The host units are in four locations: Our Lady Woman of Valor Pastoral Center, Saint Joseph’s House, and two rented apartments in the neighborhood. Two new apartments will also host a dozen more children in the coming months. This system allows mothers to receive remuneration, and sometimes a small accommodation, thus improving both the care received by the children and the living conditions of the people working within the structure. Kiflom, the Eritrean father of a little girl and a little boy, lives in a home where children are welcomed in the community. His wife is responsible for six of them. He says: “to understand the difference, you have to see in what conditions our children are usually kept, 40 or 50 children in the same place, whereas here a person is charged with 6 children. It’s very different because we do not work for profit, and the community’s children receive everything they need.”
All kindergartens are supervised by Sister Dinesha, a Sri Lankan, trained in the education of young children. The presence of Katrin, a Social Service caseworker in the care of migrants, allows everyone to receive the help and support necessary for the proper functioning of the host centers.