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Human Rights
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Middle East, Asia
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Migration, Israel, Philippines, Tel Aviv, Undocumented, Turkey
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This project documents the working conditions and the daily life of foreign workers in Israel and the difficulties that they face because of their status.
Medi Nahmiyaz

2006 — student award of excellence

My project will document the working conditions, the daily life of foreign workers in Israel and the difficulties that they face because of their status.

There are some 250,000 immigrant workers in Israel mainly from Philippines, Thailand, China, Nepal, India and Turkey working in the sectors of farming, care-giving and construction. They live segregated in the poor and old part of Tel Aviv where most Israelis almost never enter. They transformed the first two floors of the Tel Aviv bus station into a socializing area where they shop and hold karaoke and dance competitions during the weekend. Many of them have left their children and husbands or wives in their home countries to come to work in Israel alone for six or seven years.

What got me started photographing the foreign workers in Israel was the public phones full of Thai and Chinese workers who stand or sit on the sidewalks for hours to call home each weekend. This image is so strong in my head since it is a sheer reflection of globalization and the new division of labor marking my generation. We have to ask ourselves why someone from the Philippines, Thailand, China or India has to travel almost to the other side of the globe, leaving their family and home behind, to come to live and work in a place where they do not speak the language and the culture is so foreign.

The immigrant workers live under very difficult conditions and are exploited because of their vulnerable situation. The stories are numerous. Illegal confiscation of their passports by employers, withheld wages, excessive working hours with inhumane living conditions, etc. They also face challenges once they return to their country. I listened to the story of a Filipino woman who left her two kids and husband behind and came to work in Israel. She sent almost all of the money she earned home. When she returned to Philippines after seven years, she found her husband married to another woman living with her kids and meanwhile all her money was gone. She committed suicide.

Another problem is the status of the children of immigrant workers. Immigrant workers’ children are born here and they almost have almost no contact with their country of orig. however, they are not granted Israel citizenship and have problems in rights to healthcare, education and other social services. Recently, their appeals to the courts to change the law have been reported widely in the newspapers. Through my project I discovered that Turkish male workers have female Filipino “friends” although they have a family back in Turkey. I met a worker who has a family in Turkey and also has another one in Israel with a recently born child from his Filipino “friend.”

I would like to continue my proposal by listing my story ideas for this project.

-The life of a Turkish-Filipino family with their newly born child
-A group of Filipino women who live together. Documentation of their life, their interactions with the Israeli society, with the other immigrant workers and how they see their lives and what they feel about being in Israel
-Turkish workers work away from the city and live in caravans or made-up houses during the week. I will document their work, living conditions at work, relationship with the other employees and weekend life
-Immigrant workers’ social life and entertainment at the Tel Aviv bus station
-The Filipinos have either established churches for themselves or they have a specific hour designated only for them - the photographing their life in the church
-Various cases of workers who have faced serious problems such as non-payment or being overworked under difficult living conditions
-The living conditions and life of immigrant children

The grant encourages the photographers to document a story close to their home. I have grown up and attended school in Turkey but Israel is like my second home. My father’s side including my aunt, my grandmother and my cousins live in Israel. Now, I have been living here for a year and a half and I am fluent in conversational Hebrew.

This grant will give me the opportunity to continue my project and to widen the scope of my story on the life of foreign workers in Israel. Through this project I hope to have some effect on the public perception of the immigrant workers and raise awareness of an important human rights issue that exists in every part of the globalizing world.

Read more
Filipino workers at their home during their rest day on Saturday. Tel Aviv, Israel. September 2006. Medi Nahmiyaz/Alexia Foundation
A Filipino worker watches TV while the other tries to get ready before they leave together for church. Tel Aviv, Israel. October 2006. Medi Nahmiyaz/Alexia Foundation
Marietta with her mother at the shopping area of the Tel Aviv bus station on a Saturday night. Tel Aviv, Israel. October 2006. Medi Nahmiyaz/Alexia Foundation
Filipino workers praying at the church during the Filipino hour in downtown Tel Aviv, Israel. January 2006. Medi Nahmiyaz/Alexia Foundation
Marietta who is a care-giver and works for Matilda, 82, helps her light the Shabbat candle. Rishon Letzion, Israel. September 2006. Medi Nahmiyaz/Alexia Foundation
Photographs of a Filipino worker hanging near her bed at her house. Tel Aviv, Israel. September 2006. Medi Nahmiyaz/Alexia Foundation
One of the roommates of Marietta, who also works as a care-giver, at their home near the Tel Aviv bus station area, Israel. October 2006. Medi Nahmiyaz/Alexia Foundation
Marietta and her roommates rush around in the kitchen after dinner. Tel Aviv, Israel. October 2006. Medi Nahmiyaz/Alexia Foundation
Filipino and Turkish workers enjoy themselves in a house party. Petah Tikva, Israel. August 2006. Medi Nahmiyaz/Alexia Foundation
A Filipino couple getting married. Tel Aviv, Israel. September 2006. Medi Nahmiyaz/Alexia Foundation