A group of 20 Holocaust survivors arrived on Monday at the Population and Immigration Authority Bureau in Tel Aviv to distribute water and Purim gift baskets to the hundreds of asylum seekers who have been waiting outside the bureau to renew their visas.
The initiative to involve Holocaust survivors, as well as workers and volunteers of the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel, came about after many of them noticed the harsh conditions asylum seekers have been facing in recent weeks.
Batya Rapaport, a 75-year-old Holocaust survivor, explained that this is an initiative by survivors and the foundation's workers "who every day see people waiting for hours in the rain, in the cold, and in unbearable conditions. As a Holocaust survivor it raises thought, it takes you back to a time in which you were constantly chased and your life was in danger."
According to Rapaport, who as a child escaped Warsaw Ghetto before it was eliminated, the survivors seek to convey a message: "Beyond politics, we want to say that human beings cannot overlook the suffering of other people."
In recent weeks, since a new immigration office opened in Tel Aviv, thousands of asylum seekers, with families – including babies, children and pregnant women – have waited on site for hours on end, without any shelter or access to toilets.
Photo: Motti Kimchi Photo: Motti Kimchi Photo: Motti Kimchi Photo: Motti Kimchi
Some 51,000 asylum seekers in Israel are required to renew their visas in the immigration offices over a period that ranges from one month to three months. Since December, with the advent of the new Infiltration Prevention Law, the opening hours of the Population and Immigration Authority offices have been reduced throughout the country.
According to the new law, asylum seekers who are identified when carrying outdated visas may be sent to 90 days in custody at Saharonim detention facility, possibly followed by another detention period at Holot detention facility.
"When I saw the people waiting here my heart broke," Esther Miron, an 80-year-old Holocaust survivor told Ynet. "When I see people who fled their homes and were left with nothing, I cannot stay silent – I was in that situation too, we too were refugees. The Israeli society has a history and that is why we cannot stay indifferent to human suffering; that should be our primary thought. We established a country here to set a moral example." Hungary-born Miron was deported during the Holocaust to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, where many of her family members were murdered.
Some of the asylum seekers waiting in line, including women and young children, seemed quite embarrassed, though most of them were happy to receive the sweets and refreshments by the Holocaust survivors, and thanked them even though they did not know who they were.
Ronnie Kalinsky, director general of the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel, said: "The survivors who walked past here in recent days asked to do something, even if only symbolically. It's hard to see people waiting days on end without any conditions, sometimes at night too. They are also entitled to humane treatment."