Ukrainian Family Held for Three Days at Tel Aviv Airport After 'Controversial' Questioning

The family's entry was approved after the Immigration Appeals Tribunal found their story to be credible. 'We are being treated like the worst criminals,' the father said

Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg
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The Population and Immigration Authority's questioning room at the Ben-Gurion International Airport, on Thursday.
The Population and Immigration Authority's questioning room at the Ben-Gurion International Airport, on Thursday.Credit: Hadas Parush
Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg

A Ukrainian family was detained at Ben-Gurion International airport for three days due to the Immigration Authority's reliance on their questioning, which was conducted in Russian rather than their native Ukrainian.

The family – a couple and their three children, together with a 17-year-old girl in their care – was denied entry due to fears that they planned to remain in Israel permanently as well as concerns about the teen’s relationship to the family.

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On Thursday the Immigration Appeals Tribunal approved the family’s entry to Israel after finding the family’s version of events credible and the interview to which its members were subjected “controversial.”

Judge Meirav Fleischer Levy appointed a lawyer from the Justice Ministry’s legal aid department to assist the teen and to rule out suspicions of human trafficking.

The police also questioned the girl. She told the authorities that ten years ago, she and her two siblings were placed in an orphanage operated by the mother of the mother in the family she traveled with, who had legally adopted all three of them.

The girl said she regarded the orphanage director as her mother, and the woman’s daughter as a big sister. The police were satisfied that there was no indication that the girl had been trafficked.

The family’s lawyers –Idan Moldavsky, Nimrod Avigal of the refugee aid agency HIAS and attorneys from the Tel Aviv law firm Erdinast, Ben Nathan, Toledano & Co., working pro bono – had submitted to the tribunal official documents from Ukraine proving that the mother was responsible for the girl, as well as a letter from the Ukrainian consul in Israel.

The lawyers had argued that the interview of the family was aggressive and led to misunderstandings. For example, Population and Immigration Authority officials mistakenly thought the Israeli sponsoring the family for immigration was the man’s romantic partner.

In addition, the interview report said that the man didn’t know the girl, and that “someone brought her to him and told him to take her with him.” The man denied this, saying he has known the girl ever since marrying his wife, about seven years ago. He says he told the interviewer that the girl is a member of their household and was at their wedding.

“When we were questioned in Terminal 3 we were treated rudely and shouted at. They didn’t want to listen to us and didn’t let us get a word in edgewise,” the man wrote in an affidavit to the court.

“We are being held in the worst conditions in a detention facility and we have been separated,” he wrote, adding: “My wife is breastfeeding and there’s no proper food here. It’s very cold in the rooms. They didn’t let us meet and didn’t let us into the yard for fresh air. There are no facilities for children. We are being treated here in the [airport detention] facility like the worst criminals.”

In her verdict, which was issued Thursday night, Fleischer Levy ruled that the family could enter the country after a 40,000 shekel ($12,437) guarantee was posted.

She added that “The Population Authority’s concern about [the family’s desire to settle in Israel permanently] is mainly based on its impression from its interview of the appellants, an interview that is inconsistent with documents presented to the court and does not take into consideration that it was not conducted in the appellants’ language.”

She added that the interview was summarized, not transcribed, and that she found the family’s version to be credible. Fleischer Levy ordered an examination of the family’s complaints regarding the conditions in which they were held, including ones about the food they were given.

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