Hundreds Protest Ouster of Foreign Workers' Children

Deportations expected within next two weeks; child facing deportation pleads at demonstration, 'Let us stay. We have no other country.'

Organizations providing assistance to foreign workers demonstrated in Tel Aviv over the weekend against the anticipated deportation of illegal foreign workers' children.

The deportations, which reportedly involve up to 400 children who don't meet the criteria to remain in the country, are expected to begin in the next two weeks, once preparations by the Interior Ministry's Population and Immigration Authority are complete. Some of the cases, however, are subject to appeal, on the grounds that certain children are legally entitled to stay.

Foreign workers children
Tali Mayer

Held in Gan Meir Park, hundreds attended the protest on Friday. Among the speakers was 12-year-old South African Esther Aikpehae, who is featured in "Strangers No More," the Oscar-winning documentary about Tel Aviv's multicultural Bialik-Rogozin School.

One of the children subject to deportation, Aikpehae told the crowd: "In the name of the children in my situation, I turn to the State of Israel and to the person who leads it. Let us stay. We have no other country."

Other speakers included Rotem Ilan, founder of Israeli Children, a group that opposes the deportation of foreign workers' children; Rabbi Gilad Kariv, head of the Israeli Reform movement and director of the Movement for Progressive Judaism; and actress Gila Almagor.

"It is unethical for children to pay the price of the country's negligence in its immigration policy," Almagor said. "I will do everything to hide these children and I will bear the consequences."

Dozens of residents of south Tel Aviv who do not want the children to stay also attended the demonstration; they were separated from the other demonstrators by police officers. South Tel Aviv is home to many migrant foreign workers.

Among the Knesset members in attendance were Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz ) and Dov Khenin (Hadash ), who have been campaigning in support of the children from the start.

"These children not only deserve an Oscar for a touching documentary, but above all, security over their status and their future," Khenin said.

Anti-deportation organizations also object to the conditions under which the children and their families are to be held. Immigration officials consider the location a transit facility, but the groups say it is actually a detention facility.

"Even if the state is of the opinion that there is a problem with the [legal] status of these children, detention is always the last option - and that is also what the international [UN] Convention on the Rights of the Child provides," said Oded Feller of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.