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Letter from our new executive director Shirley Racah

Dear supporters and friends,

I’m thrilled to be assuming the role of Executive Director of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants. Over the past few years I’ve followed the work of the Hotline and have always been impressed by the professionalism and integrity of the organization. Now on the inside I am enjoying getting to know the dedicated and professional team that make up the organization.

For the last five years I served as the co-Director of the Equality Policy department at Sikkuy, an Israel NGO that works for equality between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel. Prior to that, I was the head of MK Dov Khenin’s parliamentary team in the Knesset. During my time at Sikkuy I advocated for equal distribution of government funding and had a significant role in achieving a landmark government decision to allocate 15 billion shekels of funding to Arab society to address gaps in economic development, infrastructure and employment. Decisions like these, that take place in government offices, have real impact on people’s everyday lives –  from affordable daycare, to safe roads to drive on. Through my work there I saw what can be achieved by advocacy work with the government. This is the true power of civil society. I now intend to harness the knowledge and experience that I gathered advocating with the government and in the Knesset towards the struggle for the rights of refugees and migrants in Israel.

It is a challenging period in which to take on this role. The government’s current plans to forcibly deport Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers who have lived in Israel for 6-12 years is an unprecedented level of government aggression towards refugees. What is clear though, is that a line has been crossed, and much of Israeli society will not stand idly by as this happens. The 20,000 people who took to the streets in Tel Aviv to march against the deportation of refugees and for the rights of South Tel Aviv residents is a testament to that. Even more convincing, is to see that this awakening is having an impact. Last week the Ministry of Interior issued a press release announcing that they would not be deporting any women, children or families, as well as anyone from the Darfur region. This is already a huge achievement that looked unlikely just two months ago.

I don’t want to oversell the situation. Our case workers who visit the detention centers every week estimate that as of today there are approximately 50 people who have been detained for refusing to “voluntarily leave”. It is not easy to sit face-to-face with someone being held in indefinite detention who has not committed any crime. Nevertheless I have faith that with the current public pressure, our legal action in the court rooms, and many initiatives currently taking place, things will continue to progress in the right direction.

Stopping the deportation is our emergency situation right now, however real policy change is a long-term game. That’s why I am proud to be leading the organization that has been working for the rights of refugees and migrants for the last 20 years. Before any refugees from Sudan and Eritrea ever arrived, the Hotline was advocating for the rights of detained migrant workers. And long after this deportation drops from the headlines, we will continue to work for the rights of migrants in Israel – whether they be seeking asylum under the UN refugee convention, workers brought to Israel on a temporary basis, or vulnerable people who fell victims to human trafficking.

I want to take this opportunity to thank Reut for all the important and impressive work over the years and for helping me over the last few weeks in preparation for the privilege of leading this organization. I wish Reut all the luck in her future ventures.

Shirley Racah
Executive Director