UNHCR has been working globally with non-governmental organizations since it first began helping the forcibly displaced in the early 1950s, when about 100 national and international “voluntary societies” were assisting refugees from World War II in Europe.
In the early years, UNHCR´s focus was primarily legal and not operational. It relied heavily on governments and established NGOs for help and funding. By the early 1990s, UNHCR recognized that the magnitude of global challenges exceeded its own capacity to respond. Given the growing needs of those of concern to UNHCR, a framework for cooperation was established between UNHCR and the hundreds of NGOs around the world with whom it works.
Since 2008, the UNHCR office in Israel works closely with several local non-governmental organizations that have a special focus on asylum seekers and refugees. Today, UNHCR relies on these organizations to implement a wide range of projects, including aid distribution, legal protection, workers’ rights, advocacy, healthcare, psychosocial support, nutrition, childcare, gender related issues, rehabilitation and adult education projects. The development of strong partnerships with more and more national NGOs therefore has been a central feature of recent years.
We present below some of the organizations with which UNHCR has been working closely in pursuit of its protection and solution objectives:
The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, established in 1998 and previously known as Hotline for Migrant Workers, specializes in providing legal and paralegal services, monitoring detention facilities, drafting litigation and public advocacy, and outreach for refugees and asylum-seekers (Hotline’s other programmes focus on migrant workers, combatting trafficking of persons, education, and providing information to the Israeli public). UNHCR works with Hotline, supporting the work of their Crisis Intervention Center, which includes the operation of a telephone hotline and open hours where Hotline’s staff provides consultation, information, advice and paralegal support five days a week to 2,000 asylum-seekers a year.
Hotline’s volunteers and staff also, on a regular basis, visit Israeli immigration detention centers (Givon, Saharonim) and, previously, the residency facility for asylum-seekers, Holot (closed by March 2018) and provide clients with legal and paralegal representation while working to secure their release. UNHCR also works with Hotline on legal challenges, with the aim of ensuring that Israel’s asylum procedure is in line with international laws, standards and principles.
The African Refugee Development Center (ARDC) is a grassroots NGO that was established by African refugees and Israeli citizens in 2004 in order to provide humanitarian support and services for asylum-seekers and refugees in Israel. The work of ARDC is divided into: Adult Education, Community Development and Empowerment, Advocacy and Awareness Raising.
Currently, UNHCR supports ARDC in providing educational services to asylum-seekers under the Higher Education Programme. The purpose of ARDC’s education initiative is to empower refugees and asylum-seekers by offering educational support services to access higher education at colleges and universities, as well as language and vocational courses. Further, ARDC is assisting Eritreans and Sudanese to submit applications for sponsorship programmes in third countries.
ASSAF (the Aid Organization for Asylum Seekers and Refugees), founded in 2007 to aid refugees and asylum-seekers, works in the areas of Advocacy for Social Change, Community Strengthening and Psychosocial Support.
UNHCR supports ASSAF’s Psychosocial Programme that includes individual and group therapy sessions. The programme, targeting the most vulnerable asylum-seekers (individuals with disabilities, the physically or mentally ill, victims of torture, single mothers, etc.), offers some modest financial support and a helping hand and assists this group to restart their life in dignity and become more self-sustainable. Further, ASSAF’s Advocacy and Support center (drop-in center) provides a team of professionals and volunteers to assess the applicants’ needs and provides them with information about their rights in Israel, available services, referrals to services of relevant authorities or partner organizations and potential entry into ASSAF’s psychosocial programs. ASSAF also hosts regular activities for Unaccompanied Minors and Refugee Youth.
Kav LaOved, established in 1991, is committed to protecting the rights of the most disadvantaged workers employed in Israel and by Israelis in the Occupied Territories, including asylum-seekers, Palestinians, migrant workers, subcontracted workers and new immigrants.
UNHCR works with Kav LaOved to provide advocacy interventions and legal information, aid, and representation to more than 1,000 refugees and asylum-seekers each year. This includes face-to-face consultations and legal aid relating to workers’ rights in the most populated areas of the communities: Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Beer-Sheva, Arad and Eilat. Further, UNHCR supports Kav LaOved’s research activities on topics affecting male and female asylum-seekers in the workplace.
Mesila was established by the Mayor of Tel Aviv-Yafo in 1999 to provide basic services to the foreign community, with a particular focus on children and families.
Given the disturbing sub-standard conditions in most of the day-care frameworks for children of asylum-seekers, known as “pirate babysitters” or “child warehouses”, that put the lives, health and development of the children at risk, UNHCR supports Mesila to address this situation by providing assistance and pedagogical guidance to caretakers, parents and communities. Following the death of 5 children in the supervision of babysitters in April 2015, the government of Israel dedicated 14 million shekels annually for 4 years to open 21 day-care facilities in Tel Aviv, following the UNITAF model. Mesila was given the responsibility of managing and implementing this new project. Further, Mesila offers one-on-one and group treatment to children and youth-at-risk.
The Center for International Migration and Integration (CIMI), founded by JDC-Israel in 1998, is an independent non-profit organization dedicated to assisting Israel in meeting its migration challenges. In particular, CIMI assists policy makers and practitioners of both host and home countries, as well as migrants themselves, to manage the challenges of migration and integration more effectively.
In Israel, UNHCR works with CIMI in cities outside of Tel Aviv, namely Petach Tikva, Bnei-Brak, Pardes Katz, and Eilat to facilitate the access to municipal services for asylum-seekers.
Established in 2002, the Refugee Rights Clinic at Tel Aviv University (TAU) is one of seven legal clinics offered through TAU’s Elga Cegla Clinical Law Programs and is the only program in Israel which specializes solely in teaching refugee law and representing refugees and asylum seekers on a free-of-charge basis. The Clinic is a leading body in litigation and court interventions on principle protection related issues, providing legal aid for dozens of asylum seekers and refugees annually. Together, UNHCR and TAU strive to achieve implementation of the UN 1951 Convention relating to status of Refugees within the Israeli legal system, with an emphasis on the recognition of victims of gender-based persecution as refugees.
Alongside the Clinic’s extensive legal aid activities, it also provides an important educational mission. Every year, twenty law students are provided with in-depth theoretical courses as well as the practical experience necessary for providing high-quality representation of asylum seekers. Occasionally, the Clinic provides training to other legal practitioners including lawyers, judges and adjudicators.
Elifelet – Citizens for Refugee Children is an NGO dedicated to supporting asylum-seeking children (0-14) living in Tel Aviv. Elifelet works to fill the gap between the insufficient solutions offered by institutional systems – education, health and welfare – and the dire needs of the community with a specific focus on the children’s physical, emotional and developmental wellbeing.
Through support for the purchase of educational materials and toys and safety equipment that ensures a secure operational environment, UNHCR enables Elifelet in providing aid to 13 makeshift daycare centers (sometimes dubbed “child warehouses” or “pirate babysitters”) and running eight after-school recreational-therapeutic facilities for at-risk children aged 6-12. Elifelet is the largest volunteer-based charity organization that works for this community, assisting over 1,000 refugee infants, children and families annually.
Physicians for Human Rights-Israel’s (PHR) Open Clinic, located in Jaffa, has been operating since 1998 to provide health care services and counseling to uninsured, status-less migrants and asylum-seekers in Israel.
UNHCR supports PHR in providing primary and secondary healthcare as well as para-medical treatment for people without medical insurance under Israeli law through volunteer medical, support and administrative staff. Further, PHR promotes long-term respect and protection of the right to healthcare for these vulnerable groups through lobbying, awareness-raising, and public advocacy with State stakeholders.
Founded in the USA as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society in 1881 to assist Jews fleeing pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe, HIAS today supports all who have fled persecution through resettlement, legal protection, and advocacy. HIAS also provides mental health and psycho-social services, prevents and responds to gender-based violence, and strives for economic inclusion. Operational in 16 countries worldwide, HIAS has helped over 4.5 million people escape persecution and is uniquely qualified to address the modern refugee situation, which has mushroomed into a global humanitarian crisis.
In Israel, UNHCR partners with HIAS to connect over 1000 asylum seekers and refugees to their network of pro-bono lawyers, enable the annual training of about 30 lawyers in national and international laws, standards, and principles regarding human rights and asylum procedures, and support HIAS Israel’s legal team in conducting strategic litigation to advance a fair asylum system in Israel.
Founded in 2009, Levinsky Garden Library is an educational community center that works to promote the human rights of south Tel Aviv’s diverse communities through empowering individuals and groups to organize collectively and to advocate for their rights. Their three main programs – The Community Education Center (CEC), the Children Center, and center for promoting the educational rights of statusless children in Israel – work to create a more just, equal and shared society for asylum seekers, migrant workers, Israeli residents and their families.
Yearly, over 1,500 students attend the CEC’s adult evening courses, which include vocational training, orientation to Israeli society, and languages (Hebrew, Arabic, English and French). To date in 2020, 35% of CEC students are women. The Children’s Centre serves over 150 children and seeks to improve their well-being and protection through a range of social, academic and outdoors activities
The Eritrean Women’s Community Center in Tel Aviv is an initiative designed and run independently by a group of Eritrean refugee women. Established in November 2011, the center aims to provide Eritrean women with a safe space as well as access to important services, cultural ceremonies, language courses, and vocational training, some of which are offered at no cost. This center is the first and only one of its kind, utilizing a grass roots approach to support Eritrean women in a fundamental way. The Center stands as a community fixture to which over two thousand people, many of which are women, turn every to access information, services, and support.
Abugida Eritrean Community Afterschool is a grassroots initiative established in 2013 by members of the Eritrean community in Israel to educate Eritrean children in Tigrinya, English, Science and Mathematics. The school has served 250 Eritrean children with its mission to support refugee students’ education in South Tel Aviv, especially regarding maintaining their mother tongue language, learning about their culture, and developing an Eritrean cultural identity.
UNHCR supports the school’s activities by providing educational materials, teaching equipment, and operational support.
Unitaf is a community-based organization that creates early-childhood programs for refugee and status-less children living in Israel.
With UNHCR support, their educational framework engages local municipality, Israeli professionals, and women from the migrant and refugee community to provide educational programs and equipment for over 1,300 children annually and to train 140 refugee and status-less women as educators and caregivers.
Kuchinate is an arts-based economic and psychosocial collective for African asylum-seeking women. Members earn a fair wage by designing and creating crafts rooted in African culture, and hosting events, crochet workshops and traditional coffee ceremonies. The women heal from trauma through art, community and therapy. Kuchinate has exhibited at major museums and galleries, building bridges with communities in Israel and abroad. Since its founding in 2011, Kuchinate has transformed the lives of hundreds of women.
The Negev Refugees Centre (NRC) was established in 2009 by four Israeli women in response to refugees from Africa, mainly Sudan and Eritrea, arriving to the Negev desert after the dangerous journey through Egypt’s Sinai desert.
Over the years, NRC has grown into a largely volunteer-run center serving some 500 families and individuals, including around 100 children, and is the only NGO working with and for refugees in the Negev. NRC’s activities include advocating for refugee rights and the recognition of asylum seekers, operating a community-educational center in Beersheba and a telephone hotline, and providing a range of programming such as Hebrew and English language courses, educational and social activities for school-age and adolescent children of refugees, advocacy and rights workshops, cultural programming, first aid and health awareness programs, and a lecture series through which refugees share their stories with Israeli students.
In addition, UNHCR works with many other NGOs, community members, and institutions on small-scale projects, including in the areas of education, health, child protection, legal assistance and research.