Israel Tries to Deport Ghanaian After Wife's Death, Gets Blocked by Judge

Ray Francis Addo has lived in Israel for 29 years and has neither ties to nor assets in Ghana

Tomer Applebaum

The Jerusalem District Court ordered the state to grant permanent residency to a Ghana national whose Israeli wife died shortly before he completed the nationalization process.

The ruling came after the Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority impeded the man’s naturalization because of his wife’s illness, rejected his citizenship application and attempted to deport him to Ghana. This, despite being married to an Israeli citizen, having spent half his life in Israel and having neither ties to nor assets in Ghana.

Judge Arnon Darel ruled last week that the immigration agency should have granted Ray Francis Addo permanent residency before his wife’s death. Having failed to do that after her death, it should have accepted Addo’s application for permanent residency on humanitarian grounds.

Addo, 59, has lived in Israel for 29 years, since entering with a volunteer visa in 1988 and overstaying after it expired. In 1998 he began a relationship with an Israeli citizen of Ethiopian descent. In 2003 he was arrested and faced expulsion, but was released so that he could apply for legal status.

The Interior Ministry told Addo and his partner that for him to obtain residency status, they would have to wed. They married in Ghana in 2004, and Addo was permitted to return to Israel.

After receiving a work visa, in November 2006 Addo was granted temporary residence. In 2011, in keeping with an Israeli law that confers citizenship eligibility on the spouse of an Israeli citizen after four years as a temporary resident, he applied to begin the naturalization process.

Shortly afterward, Addo’s wife was diagnosed with cancer. Since she was unable to attend a joint interview to determine whether their marriage was genuine, Addo’s application was rejected.

After his wife died, in May 2013, Addo remained without legal status in Israel.

He later applied for permanent residency on humanitarian grounds. His only visit to Ghana in almost 30 years was for his wedding, he has no ties there and his only living relative is his late wife’s son from a previous relationship.

The head of the immigration agency at the time, Amnon Ben Ami, adopted the recommendation of an interministerial committee on humanitarian issues and rejected Addo’s request. Ben Ami wrote that Addo’s connection to Ghana was stronger than his connection to Israel, and that a long stay in Israel is not in itself a reason to grant immigration status on humanitarian grounds. He also noted that Addo had no children or biological relatives in Israel.

Addo appealed the decision in the Jerusalem Appeals Court, arguing that he should have received Israeli citizenship before he was widowed, and that he has a pacemaker and would be in danger in Ghana because of his health and lack of ties. His appeal was rejected.

The Jerusalem District Court overturned that decision and ordered that he be granted permanent residency. Judge Arnon Darel said that he was eligible according to a procedure that was formulated at the instructions of the High Court of Justice, which relates to a foreign citizen whose Israeli spouse had died.

“The appellant’s migration to Ghana, where he actually hasn’t been for almost 30 years, without having family, friends, a place to live and social welfare conditions, creates, along with the financial difficulty, personal isolation and social disconnection. We’re talking about a 59-year-old man who is being forced to leave the country where he has lived for almost 30 years, the only relative with whom he is in contact, and his friends in Israel.”

The judge also criticized the immigration agency. He said that Addo had completed the required process by 2011, but his request was rejected because his wife couldn’t be interviewed. He said the agency refused to continue without the interview although the reasons preventing it were known, and they made no effort to find an alternative solution. In light of the fact that the court had ruled that the couple’s relationship was genuine, and the ministry didn’t disagree with that ruling, there was support for granting him citizenship.

“I’ve been here for so many years, I was with my wife for almost 20 years, we were married for seven years, what disqualifies me?” Addo said to Haaretz. “Israel is my home now. I’ve been living here for a long time. I left Ghana a long time ago. I was an only child and my parents are dead. I have nothing there. Should I go back to Ghana after 30 years?”

Addo’s lawyer, Yael Katz Mastbaum, said the case disclosed a more serious and more extensive problem. “The Interior Ministry hasn’t internalized the discussions in the High Court regarding the treatment of widows and widowers. It treats them like couples who separated as a result of incompatibility or because they ended their relationship. The Interior Ministry doesn’t take into account that a person, as in this case, has lived in Israel for 30 years. It’s true that he has no biological child, but his wife has a child, and that child is his only relative. If the Interior Ministry found that this case isn’t worthy of being included in the accepted practice for a widower I can’t imagine any other case that is worthy of meeting their criteria.”