TA: 100s protest plan to deport illegal residents' kids

During rally, Esther Aikpehae, featured in Oscar-winning film "Strangers No More," says she has "nowhere else to call home."

March 4, 2011 17:59
2 minute read.
Esther Aikpehae speaks at a rally in Tel Aviv.

Esther Aikpehae_311. (photo credit: Ben Hartman)

Several hundred people gathered in central Tel Aviv on Friday to protest government plans to deport hundreds of children of foreign workers and illegal residents of Israel.

Speaking at the rally in Tel Aviv’s Gan Meir park, 2004 Israel Prize laureate actress Gila Almagor said “these 400 children are considered illegal, but they are Israeli children just like our children. They were born here, grew up here and the don’t have any other country,” adding that they must be given permanent status in Israel.

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Almagor also vowed to hide children from the authorities if the deportations go forward, saying, “If the interior minister doesn’t go back on his decision to expel the children, I, Gila Almagor, will do all I can to hide these children, and I am willing to pay the price for it.”

Ten-year-old Esther Aikpehae, one of the stars of the documentary short Strangers No More, which won an Academy Award last week, and follows the lives of children at south Tel Aviv’s Bialik- Rogozin school, home to 180 children who face deportation, including Esther, addressed the crowd after Almagor. Aikpehae spoke about her life in Israel, activities in her scout troop, and the fact that in her words, she has nowhere else to call home.

“This was a very happy week for me, the movie Strangers No More, filmed at my school, Bialik-Rogozin which I took part in, won an Oscar, bringing honor to Israel and the city of Tel Aviv.

“The Interior Ministry has different plans for me. I speak Hebrew, write Hebrew and read it without vowels. But like other kids, I don’t meet the criteria of the Interior Ministry, and my status in Israel is in doubt. In the name of all the other children who find themselves in this position, I call on the State of Israel to let me stay.

We don’t have another country.”

Aikpehae is one of around 400 children of foreign workers and African migrants in Israel who are set to be deported from Israel following a cabinet decision last July, even though a very large number of them were born in Israel. Last week, reports emerged that the Population, Immigration and Borders Authority has built a detention facility at Ben- Gurion Airport to jail resident aliens and their children for a short period of time pending their deportation from Israel.

During the protest on Friday, a small counter-protest appeared suddenly, made up of about two dozen residents of south Tel Aviv, many of them wearing buttons that said “no more baby visas!” The counter-protesters chanted “Israel is a Jewish country,” and described the influx of foreigners as threatening the Jewish make-up of Israel and wreaking havoc on their neighborhoods.

“They have already become the majority and we are the minority,” said “Yochanan,” a resident of South Tel Aviv’s Shapira neighborhood, who also described what he said is a soaring crime rate and untold numbers of rapes that are never reported.

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