Israel Begins Long-fought Deportation of Foreign Workers' Kids on Yishai's Orders

Nigerian woman and Israeli-born daughter deported within 72 hours of arrest

Israel deported a Nigerian woman and her Israeli-born daughter yesterday to Nigeria, as part of the cabinet's decision last August to expel migrants who do not meet certain criteria.

The Population and Immigration Authority began to implement the cabinet's decision last week, angering human rights and migrant worker aid groups.

Foreign workers' kids - Tali Meyer
Tali Meyer

Over the weekend the authority arrested the Nigerian woman, who had entered Israel in September 2009 as part of a tourist pilgrimage. The woman did not go back to Nigeria with the group, instead staying and applying for refugee status.

Though her request was denied, she has remained in Israel since. Her daughter was born here last September.

The woman and her daughter were initially incarcerated in a compound at Ben-Gurion International Airport and deported 72 hours later.

During the waiting period, they were brought before a judge who upheld the order to deport them to Nigeria, where the woman's husband and rest of her family still live.

Last week Interior Minister Eli Yishai announced that the deportation of migrant families had begun. He postponed the expulsion of families whose children are enrolled in school for a few months, "due to technical difficulties."

Since August, the Population and Immigration Authority has received 701 applications for legal status and rejected 86 of them. Over 200 families may be deported until the authority reaches a decision about those families whose children attend school here.

"I'm at my wits end, I haven't slept in a very long time," said Silvia, who came to Israel from Romania 10 years ago to work as a caretaker, and whose two children, aged 3 and 4, were born here.

"My children don't know anything in Romania ... I've been living here for years, paying health insurance and taxes," she explained. "I hired a lawyer to sort out my status, and they dragged it on and on and took money from me for nothing. Now we will have to hide. I have nothing in Romania, no family. I can't go back there."

Migrant aid associations slammed the government's move. The Hotline for Migrant Workers called on the state to "stop the manhunt and deportation of children who were born here. A state that deports children, after bringing their parents here to use them as laborers for starvation wages, cannot consider itself moral."

"The deportation is appalling," added MK Ilan Ghilon (Meretz ). "No Western state deports children who were born inside its borders. The government must stop this inhuman deportation and naturalize the migrants here."

"The prime minister is responsible for this and can't continue to hide behind Yishai, the minister for racist affairs," Ghilon added.

"Israel uses the migrant workers and then throws them out," said Shahar Shoham of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel. "Deporting and arresting children, cutting them off from their natural environment and treating their family members like criminals is unforgivable. Imprisoning children is a violation of international treaties."

UNICEF Israel, the organization in charge of enforcing children's rights, protested the cabinet decision, calling it a "blatant violation" of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Israel signed alongside some 200 other countries worldwide.

"Israel must formulate a humane immigration policy and stop the senseless revolving door policy - which deports migrant workers and their children on the one hand, and brings in new ones on the other hand," UNICEF Israel said in a statement.