Though the new school year always brings kids goose bumps, this year, for 400
children of foreign workers, the new school year is marked by the shadow of an
uncertain future and in all likelihood their impending deportation from the only
home they’ve known.
At South Tel Aviv’s Bialik- Rogozin school, where at
least 100 pupils are in danger of deportation, the opening of this school year
has brought a great deal of stress for educators and pupils
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“Everyone is feeling great pressure and stress right
now. We don’t know what will happen in the end,” said Gila Ben- Artzi,
the coordinator of programs for the school’s 360 children of foreign workers, 60
of whom are kindergarten-aged.
Ben-Artzi said the uncertainty comes from
the fact that most of those who don’t fit the criteria to stay in Israel have
not received their deportation papers, and are waiting in a sort of limbo,
wondering whether they can succeed by appealing the deportation in the courts,
while at the same time hoping a last-minute government decision will change
Following an August 1 cabinet decision, 400 of the country’s
1,200 children of foreign workers stand to be deported.
Tuesday, the day
before school is set to begin, was the final deadline for those facing
deportation to come to the Interior Ministry to apply for permanent
As the children wait to see what the near future holds, Ben-Artzi
said the school has encouraged parents of children in danger of deportation to
send them to class as though the situation is perfectly normal and their status
in Israel is safe.
“We have told everyone to come to school just as they
would otherwise, as though nothing has changed.”
Ben-Artzi’s advice was
echoed by Rotem Ilan of the NGO “Israeli Children,” who works with
kindergarten-aged children, who don’t fit the government criterion that states
pupils must be at least in first grade in order to stay.
“We tell parents
of children in kindergarten to keep things normal, to keep their fight against
the deportation behind closed doors, and continue sending their children to
Ilan said that the children at risk of deportation cannot
escape the reality of their situation, and suffer from great stress which makes
the typical back-to-school pressure even harder. In addition, the young children
often understand full well their situation, in that for most of them Hebrew is
their mother tongue.
“They understand it all, they see everything and
they hear everything [about their situation].
It definitely has an
We hear from children all the time: Why is this child okay but
not me?” Ilan added that she had heard of and seen firsthand the emotional and
physical signs of the stress children are suffering, including bed-wetting and
behavioral problems, among others.
For 15-year-old Demet, a 10th grade
student at Bialik- Rogozin, the opening of the new school year presents an
opportunity to escape the aimlessness of the summer and find refuge from the
stress of her impending deportation.
“When I’m outside of school I worry
about the police and about my situation. When I’m inside school I know I’m in a
safe place, a place that protects me,” Demet said, adding that because of the
high number of children in her situation at Bialik- Rogozin, the school “feels
like one big family.”
Demet came to Israel from Turkey at the age of 10
with her mother. Though she’s been in Israel over five years and is under the
age of 18, her mother entered the country illegally, and she is thus not able to
receive permanent status in Israel.
Over the coming days, the Hotline for
Migrant Workers will present to the High Court of Justice 12 petitions for
children whose parents were denied permanent status in Israel. The petitions
focus on exceptional cases in which children narrowly miss fitting the
Many of the cases deal with children who were born in Israel
and are five years old, but since they are going into kindergarten instead of
first grade, are not considered eligible for permanent status. Other contested
cases include children whose parents worked as housekeepers for embassy staff
and were thus considered “diplomatic workers” and ineligible to stay, and
children of women who were trafficked to Israel to work in the sex trade and are
thus not eligible because their mothers entered the country illegally.
the restless, mainly African children drew in coloring books and chased
other across the floor teasing one another in Hebrew, parents waited
the day to meet with clerks from the Interior Ministry, in a special
up after the government decision.
Rami Gudovitch, a volunteer who was
helping parents waiting for their meetings said that clerks from the
were dealing with the parents and their children with great care and
but that by the end of the day 82 people had received word that their
deportation is final and will be carried out in the coming
“Typically, the children understand the situation better than
their parents, and in a lot of cases they understand first and have to
the bad news to their parents.”