4-year-old Ofek, Mom Sent to Phillipines

District court castigates the Immigration and Population Authority for the haste in which it arrested the mother and daughter ahead of their deportation, yet orders the deportation of the Israeli four-year-old girl and mother.

A foreign worker and her 4-year-old daughter, who was born and educated in Israel, were due to be deported yesterday after a judge denied a petition to delay the move.

The Petah Tikvah District Court ordered Thursday night's scheduled deportation of 4-year-old Ofek and her mother Nancy, who was held in custody. The two were set to leave on a flight to Korea around midnight, and from there continue to the Philippines.

The judge castigated the Immigration and Population Authority for the haste in which it arrested the mother and daughter ahead of their deportation. "Such a rushed procedure is inappropriate and should not occur in a state of proper conduct," said Judge Avraham Yaakov. "People are not cattle and should be given the chance to process their deportation in a reasonable manner."

He said the two should have been given a longer period of time to adjust, but he rejected the petition to give them more time because "the child has spent the past week with her father and during that time I believe she said goodbye to him properly."

Ofek was able to spend the past week with her father thanks to a court order that delayed her deportation at the last moment and enabled her to meet with her father before being sent out of Israel.

The Interior Ministry had already planned to deport Ofek and her mother last week. The move was in line with a new policy decided in August of last year, but whose implementation was delayed in March.

Just before Ofek and Nancy's deportation last week, Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wrote an urgent letter to Interior Minister Eli Yishai, calling on him to prevent the girl's deportation.

The two were removed from the plane at the last moment after the child's father rushed to the airport with the court order staying the deportation until a special hearing could be held Thursday.

Sara Netanyahu met Ofek and promised to take action that would enable her to stay in Israel. She also promised to free her mother from detention.

Netanyahu wrote to the interior minister: "She was born here. This is her country. She speaks Hebrew. I ask you, please, Eli, to prevent the deportation and allow her to go back to kindergarten next year."

Ofek's mother arrived in Israel on a work visa before the child was born. Ofek was enrolled last year in a pre-kindergarten run by the Tel Aviv municipality and was registered to go to kindergarten this year, as well.

Ofek's father, a foreign worker legally employed in Israel, said while he was on his way with his daughter to the compound where Nancy was being held, "I don't know when I'll see her again. I feel weak from the judge's decision but can't do anything about it."

"I didn't have time to say goodbye to my friends Marko and Dan," Ofek said. Attorney Oded Feller of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, who had petitioned the deportation on behalf of the family, said, "In spite of the clear rules about the duty to always consider the children's good and avoid arresting them, the Interior Ministry has opted for the most radical measure - deporting children with their parents."

"We gave the ministry and court examples of alternatives adopted in the world to encourage migrant parents' departure without detention and hope the ministry will heed the court's criticism of the arrest and deportation procedure," he said.