The authorities are seeking to separate Malka Iguan, an Israeli citizen, from her Nepalese partner, Suweikoti Toya, although they have been living together for two years in a kibbutz in northern Israel.
The Population and Immigration Authority says the couple hasn’t proven the sincerity of their partnership. In their decision, they wrote that “Toya doesn’t know what it means to belong to a kibbutz. He didn’t remember the color of the kibbutz gates. He knows the community leader but didn’t remember his name.”
Out of the 191 questions the couple was asked in an interview, the authority’s Afula office found 10 “contradictions.”
Iguan, 53, is a member of kibbutz Ein Dor in the Galilee. She has three children from a previous marriage and one of them – Rafael, 25 – has muscular dystrophy. She met Toya, who is 40 and a sanitation worker, when his brother was helping her in caring for her son. They communicated over the internet, fell in love and had a long-distance relationship for several years.
“After eight years as a divorcee without any loving partner, I have found the love of my life who accepts me with all the complications and difficulties involved in taking care of my disabled son,” she said. “This is a real love to me in every sense of the word. They are separating us only because he’s a foreign citizen and not Jewish.”
The couple recently appealed the decision to a district office through attorney Omri Azulay.
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In 2017 Iguan applied to the Interior Ministry to permit Toya to come to Israel as her partner, and he was allowed into the country after depositing a 20,000-shekel bond. He lived with her on the kibbutz and had a temporary work permit. After some time, the couple asked the ministry to regularize Toya’s status in Israel and they were interviewed last August.
Three weeks later, the Afula office said it rejected the request “due to contradictions in the interview.” The couple appealed, noting that the interview was done in English and not in Nepalese, making the questions more difficult for Toya, and cited blatant errors in the interviewer’s notes on the conversation. That appeal was rejected. Azulay appealed to a court in Haifa and they were given another interview in April 2019. After separately interviewing them for two and a half hours, the authority again rejected their request, this time saying they had given different answers to 10 out of 191 questions, so they were not convinced of the ties between them.
One of the issues was that Toya did not know the name of communities near the kibbutz and couldn’t remember the color of the entry gate. He also said they had recently bought two pillows and a blanket while she said they hadn’t bought anything.
Their lawyer challenged the decision, arguing that a Nepalese man not knowing what it means to be a kibbutz member is not important since he is not a member of the kibbutz. He added that the fact that Toya didn’t know the names of nearby communities also didn’t disprove the couple’s relationship.
“What does it mean exactly that both of them don’t remember the color of the gate? That they’re lying? Azulay wrote. “It cannot be that such matters should be listed as reasons to reject the couple’s request.”
The attorney added that the ministry office did not contact any witnesses or any of the couple’s friends.
Iguan added: “Since when does the color of the gate of a kibbutz and whether or not I bought a pillow show whether we love each other or whether we have a strong bond? How can such unjustified and unimportant reasons be allowed to determine the fate of a couple in love?”
Iguan’s disabled son, Rafael, said he fears the ministry’s decision will mean his mother will leave his side in order to remain with her partner. “My mother has been devoted to treating me my entire life ever since my father left home,” he said. “My mother has not had any relationships since he left us eight years ago.”
The Population and Immigration Authority said in response: “This is about an Israeli citizen who says she has a partnership with a Nepalese citizen. Based on checks we have conducted over time, the couple failed to prove they are a cohabitating couple and therefore the process was ended. We make clear that all relevant aspects were examined. Their appeal was received recently and is under examination.”