Foreign-born model in Israel fears deportation

She still gets scared when she sees police, fearing “a situation where they’ll say, ‘Give me your identity card.’”

August 5, 2019 16:21
2 minute read.
Monica Joseph's modeling page on YuliGroup

Monica Joseph's modeling page on YuliGroup. (photo credit: YULIGROUP.COM/SCREENSHOT)

Monica Joseph, a successful model who was born in the Sudan and has appeared in campaigns for Israeli brands including Castro and Adika, opened up to Channel 12 News about her family’s harrowing journey to Israel and her fears that they will be deported.

The 19-year-old model fled the Sudan with her mother as a baby and lived in Egypt until she was around seven. Bedouin traffickers took Joseph, her mother and her autistic brother to the Israeli border, where one of them aimed a rifle at her crying brother and threatened to kill him. He quieted down and the family made it across the border to Israel, where they were kept in the detention center in Saharonim Prison for four months, which she saw as being like a “summer camp.”
Tough times followed when the family moved to Arad. Joseph’s mother got a job, but Joseph had to stay home and care for her brother. Eventually, they moved to Tel Aviv, where she finally got to go to school and found that other pupils there were from 10 countries around the world, so she fit right in. “It made it easier for me to connect, because everyone is different there, it isn’t only me who’s different,” she said in the slangy Hebrew of a typical Israeli teenager.

She still gets scared when she sees police, fearing “a situation where they’ll say, ‘Give me your identity card,’” and she still has to visit a center in Bnei Brak every few months to get her permit extended.

Her home life deteriorated as her mother became an alcoholic and sank into a depression. When Joseph started missing school, she was eventually transferred to a group home run by a supportive couple, who helped her find the self-confidence to finish high school and start modeling.

She first heard about modeling when a makeup artist who was getting her ready for a group bat mitzvah told her she could succeed in it. But she assumed the modeling world was all about “blue-eyed blondes,” and ignored the advice because, “I didn’t want to get hurt.” Once she turned 18, she decided to give it a try and was quickly successful.

Now, Ziva Michael – head of Yuli Group, the modeling agency Joseph works for – says it is time for her to make the leap to the next professional level. “The natural next step is to go and conquer the world,” she said, meaning to model abroad. But Joseph can’t, at least for now, because she has no passport. The government has repeatedly refused requests from Joseph and her family – as well as thousands of others – for asylum in Israel. Until that issue is resolved, international stardom in the modeling world is out of the question.

To keep going, she works hard and compartmentalizes. “There is still that fear in me, that story that goes on in loops all the time... I can’t go on the set and think about how I got to Israel, or what is happening with my siblings,” she explained. “It’s a kind of escape to a good place... I can’t think about being deported. It doesn’t enter my head. It’s a kind of separation that I learned to make a long, long time ago.”

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