Mulo, the Eritrean asylum seeker whose baby daughter was stabbed in the head in January, gazed despairingly at the summons he received Sunday to report to the open detention facility in Holot. “It’s not enough that we were hurt?” he muttered, over and over.
Kako, then about 18 months old, was stabbed while in her mother’s arms at Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station and severely injured. The assailant, Mordechai Zaretsky, admitted to police that he had wanted to kill a black baby, but he was never indicted because he was ruled unfit to stand trial. Instead, he was hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital.
After two and a half months in intensive care, Kako was released. But her mother, Yordanes, must still take her to a rehab hospital every day. Kako is lame in her right leg and has problems with concentration and motor skills. Because she is so young, it’s not yet clear how much brain damage she suffered.
Her family has had trouble coping, especially given the lack of help from the authorities. “We didn’t get any help from the Tel Aviv municipality, the Social Affairs Ministry or the Health Ministry,” Mulo said. “Nobody’s helping us. The girl was stabbed, and we’re financing her medical treatment. We get help only from volunteers.”
The whole family has suffered. Rut, the elder daughter, was present when Kako was stabbed, and Yordanes said she still wakes up crying in the middle of the night. Yordanes herself has had trouble functioning and hasn’t been able to work; she suffers from depression and anxiety, and cries frequently. Mulo returned to his job at the Hetzi Hinam supermarket, but it doesn’t pay enough for the family’s needs.
On Sunday, Mulo went to the Interior Ministry to renew his visa. Because of the notoriously long lines for asylum seekers, he arrived at 4:30 A.M. After eight hours of standing in line with no water, he was finally admitted at 12:30 P.M. – only to be handed a summons to report to Holot for questioning.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Mulo said. “After our baby was stabbed by an Israeli who hasn’t spent even a month in jail, this is what I get from the state? The State of Israel is sending me to jail? Where’s the justice?
“I explained to the clerk that I was married with two daughters,” he continued. “The clerk asked me where my wife was and why she hadn’t come with me. I explained that my wife was at the hospital. He asked, ‘What happened?’ I explained that my younger daughter had been hurt, that she was stabbed by an Israeli. The clerk asked for my wife and daughter’s documents. I explained that my wife doesn’t need to extend her visa, that she has a visa for six months. I didn’t understand why she needed to come. I explained to the clerk that she’s in the hospital with the daughter who was stabbed … In any case, they have her documents in the computer.”
Mulo said he then asked the clerk, “Haven’t I been hurt enough in Israel?”
“Not enough,” the clerk replied contemptuously. “You know how many Israelis have been hurt by Eritreans?”
“I didn’t know how to answer,” Mulo said, drying his tears at the memory. “In my mind’s eye, I saw Kako hooked up to the respirator after she was stabbed. I was ashamed for him, that he spoke like that about a little girl who was stabbed.”
Then, after examining the documents he had been issued by the Interior Ministry, the clerk claimed they were forged.
“How could I forge a visa that I got from the Interior Ministry?” Mulo demanded. But the clerk wouldn’t budge.
“Then I asked, ‘Who will take care of the girl?’ And he answered, ‘Get a babysitter.’ I asked him, ‘Will the state give me one?’ And the clerk answered, ‘The state doesn’t have to give you anything!’”
Afterward, Mulo was made to wait for two hours, during which time various clerks came over and threatened, “Soon they’ll come and take you to jail.” Finally, he was handed the summons to report to Holot next Monday.
“I don’t know what to do now,” Mulo said. “Does the state really intend to imprison me in Holot? What crime did I commit? After everything we’ve gone through, a clerk talks to me like that? And what now – do I need to abandon my wife and daughters and go to jail?”
Yordanes burst into tears. “If my husband is in jail and I’m at the hospital with one daughter, who will take care of Rut, who’s 3?” she demanded. “Who will support us?”
“Nobody took responsibility for Kako’s stabbing,” Mulo added, bitterly. “No state representative ever came to talk with us. Nobody in the country checks to see how we’re coping. Nobody checks whether we need help. And finally, when I come to the Interior Ministry, they speak to me contemptuously, humiliating me and threatening me with jail?”
MK Michal Rosin (Meretz), chairwoman of the Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers, wasn’t surprised by his story. “The Interior Ministry bureaucracy has been revealed over and over as hardhearted and incapable of seeing the people behind the names and numbers,” she said.
She promised to contact the head of the ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority and demand that Mulo’s summons to Holot be canceled. She also said she would seek legal status for the family on humanitarian grounds.
Anat Ovadia, spokeswoman for the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, said it was “outrageous” that the family should be treated in such a fashion.
“Instead of handling them with sensitivity at a time when the damage and effects of the stabbing aren’t even fully clear yet, they’re threatening them with unlimited detention and treating them as if they were criminals,” she said. “Unfortunately, we get many complaints about humiliating, coarse, violent and provocative questions by Interior Ministry representatives while they’re interrogating couples, which are meant to break the asylum seekers’ spirit.”
Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad said that all employees are instructed to treat all members of the public, “including visa applicants,” respectfully and generously. “If there are claims of ungenerous treatment in this case, the issue will be checked,” she added.
Haddad confirmed that government policy is not to send men “who have proven” that they have families to Holot. “Exceptional cases in which coming with one’s spouse presents a problem will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis,” she said.
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