An Ivory Coast national has been imprisoned for five years because he refuses to return to his country but has been unable to find another country that will take him in together with his wife and their 9-year-old daughter.
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The state has even barred his wife and daughter from visiting him in jail for the last five years, though he speaks to them daily by phone. The wife is a native of India, while their daughter was born and raised in Israel.
The Population, Immigration and Border Authority tried twice to deport the man to Ivory Coast, but he refused to board the plane. The Indian Embassy in Tel Aviv said it can’t help, as only in Ivory Coast can he get a visa to move with his wife and daughter to India.
When the man first arrived in Israel, he enjoyed the group protection given all Ivory Coast nationals due to that country’s civil war. But in 2012, Israel decided this group protection was no longer needed and deported some 2,000 Ivorians.
The man then sought asylum, but his application was rejected, as was his request to remain here on humanitarian grounds. A few months later, he was sent to Saharonim Prison.
His wife was working in Israel legally as a caregiver when they met, but after their daughter was born, her work visa was canceled. She then received a temporary visa as the wife of someone with protected status, but that was canceled when the Ivorians lost their group protection.
Since then, the wife and daughter have tried to see him several times, but weren’t allowed into Saharonim because they are living here illegally. The wife has medical problems and has trouble supporting herself and her daughter.
She has repeatedly asked the population authority to release her husband so he can arrange his departure from Israel, aided first by private lawyers and then the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, but to no avail.
“We asked to go together to India, but they don’t want to send us together,” she told Haaretz. “I don’t know what to do.”
“He’s Muslim, and his country won’t accept me and my daughter,” she added. “I lost all my money on a lawyer. I took six or seven lawyers. They gave me hope, said he’d get out. I paid until my money ran out.”
By law, someone here illegally can be arrested to ensure his deportation, but after two months in jail, he is supposed to be eligible for bail. However, there are two grounds for denying bail – if he’s a danger to the public, or if he refuses to cooperate with his deportation. Someone who refuses to cooperate can be held indefinitely, and dozens of foreigners have spent years in Israeli jails for this reason.
“We talk for five to seven minutes every day, but we can’t see each other,” the wife said. “I haven’t seen him in five years. Once they brought him to court and I wanted to hug him, to talk with him, but they didn’t let me.”
“Two or three times they told my husband, ‘Your wife can come with the girl.’ I traveled from Tel Aviv to Saharonim, but they wouldn’t let me in,” she added. “I cried, my daughter cried.” Her last attempt was earlier this year.
She has also asked the Indian Embassy for help several times to no avail. “They told me at the embassy that if I come with him and he asks for a visa, it’s possible. But when he’s in jail, it isn’t possible.”
Neelesh Kumar, counselor at the Israeli Embassy, told Haaretz the embassy deals only with Indians and Israelis and can’t do anything for an Ivorian. He said the man would have to return to Ivory Coast and ask the Indian Embassy there for a visa.
“He has problems there, he doesn’t want to return,” responded his wife. “He wants to return with me and my daughter. He’s afraid he’ll lose us.”
The custody tribunal at Saharonim has repeatedly rejected his request for release, saying he has no right to choose where he’s deported to. And in any case, “even if he were released from custody, there’s not a smidgen of evidence that it would be possible to deport him together with his wife to India, a country that isn’t his country of origin, without any valid documents,” said the latest ruling, issued last month.
But the population authority said that if he gets an appointment at the Indian Embassy, “We promise to allow him to attend the meeting to further the issue of his departure from Israel.”