'When I Was in Fifth Grade They Put Us in Jail': Deported Filipino Children Long to Return to Israel, Only Home They Knew

‘It’s inhumane to take a 13-year-old who has lived here all his life and load him onto a plane one morning,’ says one deported boy's teacher

Yisraela Jamaira (left) and her mother, Ann.

A month has passed since Edith and her son Lansen, 13, a special education student, were arrested in Israel and deported to the Philippines. Before they were expelled, the two sat in Yahalom detention facility for three days, during which officials at Lansen’s school repeatedly tried to reach his mother to find out what had happened to him. By the time they realized that the mother and son were going to be deported, the two were already at the airport.

“They arrested me and wouldn’t let me talk to my son,” Edith told Haaretz from the Philippines. “After the arrest they went to my house and brought Lansen to the jail. For three days my son didn’t stop crying. They didn’t let him say goodbye to his school or friends, they just flew us to the Philippines.”

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Lansen, who has learning and developmental difficulties, was born and lived in Israel all his life. Edith had been detained in October and signed a letter committing to leaving the country by December. In January she was detained again and then jailed with her son. “I asked the Immigration Authority to let Lansen stay in Israel until the end of the school year, but they refused,” Edith says. “My son doesn’t know how to speak or write Tagalog, he’s 13 and it will be hard for him to learn it now. He hasn’t stopped crying from the moment we got here. He wants to fly to Israel and can’t accept that we aren’t going back.”

Children of migrant workers - Alex, Lamuel, Anton, Tomer and Azriel - all expected to be deported from Israel by July, Tel Aviv, Israel, February 17, 2019.
\ Moti Milrod

On Sunday Haaretz reported that over the past five months, the Population and Immigration Authority had arrested around 20 foreign workers from the Philippines, who are due to be deported with their children, all of whom were born in Israel and speak only Hebrew. The parents were told that the deportations would happen in July and August.

The authority insists there has been no change in policy and no decision for a mass expulsion has been taken. However, leaders of the Filipino community, social activists and staffers at the Bialik-Rogozin School in Tel Aviv, where most of the children study, say that there has been a sharp rise in pre-deportation arrests in recent weeks — as compared to almost no deportations in recent years. Three of the women were arrested just last week.

“Of course there’s a law and it must be enforced, but there’s a way to do it,” said A., one of the school staff who worked with Lansen. “It’s inhumane to take a 13-year-old boy who has lived here all his life and load him onto a plane one morning. He isn’t an existential threat to the state. They didn’t give him or the children a chance to say goodbye, and that’s been traumatic both for the staff and for the whole class.”

Lansen hasn’t been to school since his arrival in the Philippines. “There’s no special education here that’s appropriate for him,” his mother said. “We’re living in a village now, there’s barely any internet here.”

No place for children

Yisraela Jamaira, 13, was deported in July 2017 with her parents, her brother, who was 5, and her sister, 2. The whole family was jailed for several days before they were flown out of the country.

Speaking with Haaretz, Yisraela says that although a year and a half has passed, there isn’t a day she doesn’t miss Israel. “My name is Yisraela because Israel is my home and my life,” she said. “I was a normal Israeli girl, I was born in Israel and I went to Bialik-Rogozin. When I was in fifth grade they arrested us and put us in jail. It was horrible. I cried every night in jail and couldn’t sleep. Jail is no place for children.”

Yisraela’s parents lived and worked in Israel for 14 years. “This isn’t easy for us,” says the mother, Ann. “The children haven’t adjusted to the Philippines and my daughter doesn’t stop talking about and missing Israel. Despite what the government does to the children, they still love Israel and want to go back.”

“I still miss my friends, the Scouts, Tel Aviv and even my teachers at school,” adds Yisraela. “I knew only Hebrew when I got to the Philippines. […] Before the deportation I was a happy girl, and now I’m sad and cry all the time. My parents are also sad and weepy, it’s hard for me to see that.”

Yisraela said she had agreed to be interviewed in an effort to help those still in Israel. “I hope they don’t deport other children,” she says. “I don’t want other kids to be sad like me.”