The state is claiming that a 59-year-old grandfather who has children ages 34 and 37 is actually a man of 32, and must therefore choose between being deported on April 1 or being jailed indefinitely.
Moreover, he is supporting his grandchildren, because their parents were severely wounded in a hate crime and can no longer work.
Earlier this week, in response to a petition filed by the refugee aid organization HIAS, an appellate custody tribunal in Tel Aviv issued a temporary restraining order against his deportation. Nevertheless, he is still expected to be deported in early April.
“Every time I go to the Interior Ministry, I tell them to look at me, I’m not a man of 30, I’m an old man,” said Gabriot, the 59-year-old Eritrean national. “They made a mistake in translating [my documents] when I first came to Israel, and now, nobody will correct it and nobody will listen to me.
“How is it possible to deport me from Israel?” he added. “I’m an old man; I no longer have the strength to move to a different country. And if they deport me, it’s like killing my daughter and grandchildren, who will remain without help. They need the money I give them; nobody’s helping them.”
Aside from having two grandchildren ages 1 and 5, Gabriot’s age is readily apparently in his wrinkled face and white hair. Yet the ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority insists he was born in 1986 and is therefore now just 32.
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At a recent pre-deportation hearing, the immigration authority rejected his arguments about both his advanced age and the fact that he supports his grandchildren. The official conducting the hearing simply didn’t believe him.
“I asked you to give me true answers,” the official said. “You said your date of birth was 1986 – true or false?”
“That was a translation error,” Gabriot responded. “I said what I’m saying today. I told them I was born in 1959.”
Yet at previous hearings, immigration authority officials had admitted for the record that he doesn’t look like a man in his 30s, and therefore agreed not to send him to the open detention facility in Holot.
The Justice Ministry is currently considering whether elderly asylum seekers ought to be deported, in light of a Haaretz report earlier this week. That report said men over 67, who had until now been exempt from deportation, had been summoned for pre-deportation hearings despite a promise made in January by the immigration authority’s director, Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, that only working-age asylum seekers would be deported.
The mistake in his age is only one of the problems Gabriot faces. In July 2012, his daughter and her husband were severely injured when an Israeli set fire to their house. They suffered second- and third-degree burns on much of their bodies, were hospitalized for about a month and underwent numerous subsequent treatments, including 14 operations. Ever since, Gabriot has supported the couple and their children.
Today, his daughter can work a few hours a day despite her injuries, but her husband has severe mental and physical problems and is effectively disabled.
To support them, Gabriot works 11 hours a day, six days a week, as a cleaner. For the past five years, he has given his daughter a significant portion of his salary. This is what enables her to feed, clothe and house her two young children.
In its appeal against his deportation, HIAS stressed that his grandchildren depended on him for their survival. But the immigration authority deemed this “an irrelevant argument which isn’t one of the exceptions listed in the law,” because according to the letter of the law, minor children can only be dependent on their fathers.
This, wrote HIAS attorney Michael Cohen-Ad in a letter to the authority, is “a crying case of turning a blind eye, because it ignores the rationale behind exempting parents of dependent minors from the deportation process – the principle of the child’s welfare.”
Speaking to Haaretz, he added, “The grandfather, Gabriot, went through hearing after hearing aimed at sending him to Holot and breaking his spirit and that of his family. He was forced to appeal again and again against orders to report to Holot, which ended with Gabriot remaining outside that facility because he’s supporting his two young grandchildren.
“In this case, we’re witnessing a regrettable close-mindedness on the part of the immigration authority, which, despite noting in the minutes of the hearings it held for Gabriot that it’s impossible for him to be a man of 32, younger than his daughter, has refused to recognize his real age officially,” he continued. “It’s impossible to grasp how blind this deportation is until you sit across from a clerk who yells at a 60-year-old man that he’s a liar because the computer says he’s 30. We had this argument over and over with the border control supervisor, to no avail.”
Gabriot was conscripted into the Eritrean army in 1997. After 11 years of service, he fled, making his way to Israel via Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. He entered Israel illegally in 2008 and was jailed at Saharonim Prison for a month. Since then, his temporary residency permit has been repeatedly renewed.
In 2014, he applied for asylum. But his application was rejected in 2015, based on the immigration authority’s position that deserting the Eritrean army is not grounds for asylum.
“Gabriot’s family paid a terrible price for Israel’s hatred of African asylum seekers,” said attorney Nimrod Avigal, who heads the HIAS legal aid program. “But here they sought asylum, here they raised their children and here their grandfather cleans our streets. His deportation shouldn’t be another price they have to pay, and we hope the fact that many Israelis have taken a stand against the deportations, alongside the many necessary legal proceedings, will bring this cruel process to an end.”
The immigration authority commented, “As we’ve said in previous responses, we don’t intend to replace the hearings with responses via the media. Anyone who thinks an injustice has been done to him is invited to appeal in the usual way.”