Foreign workers’ kids go to school despite uncertain future

Deadline to apply for permanent status passes; first families receive word deportations to be carried out within weeks.

September 1, 2010 04:55
4 minute read.
Children of foreign workers climb a metal bookcase in Tel Aviv as their parents meet .

311_foreign workers' kids. (photo credit: Ariel Schalit/AP)

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 alike.

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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 things.

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 status.

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 kindergarten.”

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 effect.

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 criteria.

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.

As the restless, mainly African children drew in coloring books and chased each other across the floor teasing one another in Hebrew, parents waited throughout the day to meet with clerks from the Interior Ministry, in a special office set up after the government decision.

Rami Gudovitch, a volunteer who was helping parents waiting for their meetings said that clerks from the ministry were dealing with the parents and their children with great care and sympathy, 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 weeks.

“Typically, the children understand the situation better than their parents, and in a lot of cases they understand first and have to explain the bad news to their parents.”

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