Immigration authorities jailed a newborn baby at Saharonim prison last week. Following pressure, the authorities have promised to remove the Ivory Coast family of four, to the detention facility at Ben-Gurion International Airport until their deportation.
The Ivory Coast family lived legally for years in Israel, under collective protection afforded citizens of that country, until a recent change of policy annulled the protection and immediate deportation began. The family was arrested last Thursday. The mother, less than two weeks after giving birth, her baby and 4-year-old daughter were separated from the father, who was imprisoned in the men's section.
Two months ago, all Ivory Coast citizens were requested to leave Israel, and were warned they would be deported if they did not do so. Since mid-July, the Population, Immigration and Border Authority has been enforcing the policy, arresting, imprisoning and deporting Ivory Coast citizens.
The family protested the hurried timetable, deeming it impossible that the woman should fly in the last two months of her pregnancy. They promised to leave Israel several months after the birth.
But the family was arrested at home at 6 A.M. and imprisoned at Saharonim.
Attorney Daniel Peleg, who volunteered to help the family, said: "If [the Population, Immigration and Border Authority] believes a 2-week-old baby can board a plane, which seems unacceptable in itself, why is she kept behind bars for a week? The conditions in the prison are unsuitable for children, let alone a newborn and her mother. If [the authority] already waited a week before deportation, nothing would have happened if they agreed to wait a few more weeks, until the baby grows a bit, while finding reasonable assurances that the family would, indeed, leave. Criminals are often treated to alternatives to jail, and it is inconceivable that in this case the authority chose to harden its heart, when confronted with a 4-year-old girl, a woman who just gave birth, and worst of all, a 2-week-old baby."
Peleg said that from his talks with prison officials, they too, "found the situation uncomfortable. But they're bound by decrees, and this family was to be imprisoned until the Interior Ministry decided they would be deported, whether it takes one day or 20. They say they're doing their best under the circumstances."
The case was brought to the attention of MK Zahava Gal-On (Meretz ) who wrote to Interior Minister Eli Yishai and to the deputy commander of Saharonim prison. "My opinion concerning the jailing of minors is well known, but I cannot hide my consternation at the news that a 2-week-old baby is being held in improper conditions," she wrote. "I appeal to you to act for the release of the mother and her two daughters, under reasonable conditions, for a set period of time, allowing the mother and daughter to strengthen, until they are capable of flying."
Yishai has yet to reply to Gal-On's letter.
The Population, Immigration and Border Authority stated: "After examining the circumstances of the case, it has been decided to immediately transfer the family to the facility at Ben-Gurion airport until they board a flight, and not to leave them at Saharonim."
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