Hunted in Ivory Coast, Albino Child and Parents Granted Asylum in Israel

Albinism is a life threatening condition in some African states, where it is associated with stigma and superstitions.

Israel is expected to grant political asylum to 4-year-old Maiken Kaita and her parents, after determining it would be too dangerous for the albino child to return to Ivory Coast.

This is the first time Israel has granted parents asylum because of their daughter, said Attorney Maayan Nussel, who represents the family.

Moti Milrod

Albinism is a life threatening condition in some African states, where it is associated with stigma and superstitions. Albinos are believed to possess special powers and their body parts and hair are used as lucky charms for health, good fortune, wealth and success.

Armed gangs in those states attack albinos, dismember them while they are still alive and sell their body parts for as much as $75,000 on the black market. Witch doctors use their fingers as talismans for wealth.

There have been over 100 albino murders in Tanzania, Burundi and other parts of Africa in the past decade, international organizations report, and special compounds have been set up to protect albinos.

The Population and Immigration Authority's Refugee Agency's refugee status determination unit received Maiken's family's request and gathered evidence indicating Maiken could fall victim to body-part traders. The unit recommended to the interior minister to grant the family asylum in Israel.

According to the evidence, Maiken would be in grave danger if she returned to her parents' homeland, the agency wrote in its recommendation. Maiken could be subject to dismemberment and murder so that her body parts could be sold.

Maiken's father Mohammed, an electrician by trade, fled from Ivory Coast to Egypt 17 years ago after a gang of rebels attacked his family. He worked as a cleaner in Egypt. In 2001 he was joined by his wife Matinji. The two crossed the border to Israel in the hope of making a better life and receiving political asylum.

When their only daughter Maiken was born in Tel Aviv's Ichilov Hospital in 2007 and they saw she was an albino, her parents knew they could never return to Ivory Coast or any other African state.

"We've never had an albino in the family before," Mohammed said. "Rich people in Africa come with a lot of money, looking for these children, like my daughter. Witch doctors use their parts and blood," he said.

Maiken goes to the kindergarten in the Bialik-Rogozin school in Tel Aviv and sees herself as an Israeli. Her mother says her light skin color helps her blend in.

"This is a clear case in which an albino belongs to a social group that is hounded due to a genetic flaw in its homeland. This is defined as persecution in the Refugee Covenant," Nussel said.