'Interior Ministry unprepared for child deportations'

Knesset panel says ministry has left vital questions unanswered; Psychologist: In current reality, foreign workers’ children are traumatized.

sudanese refugee 311 (photo credit: JENNIFER COLE)
sudanese refugee 311
(photo credit: JENNIFER COLE)
The Interior Ministry is not sufficiently prepared for the upcoming deportation of foreign workers’ families and has left vital questions about the procedure unanswered, committee chairman Danny Danon (Likud) said at the conclusion of a Knesset Committee on the Rights of the Child meeting on Wednesday.
Danon called on the state comptroller to follow the deportations closely and said that the committee would be conducting regular inspection tours to make sure the process take place with minimum injury to the children.
“The committee debate was not meant to criticize the government’s decision [to deport the children],” Danon said.
“My working assumption is that there is a decision in place and that the committee is supposed to oversee its implementation so we won’t have to hear, in retrospect, that international treaties that Israeli is signed up to weren’t maintained. In the course of the discussion it emerged that the enforcement apparatus is not prepared for the execution of the decision and all my attempts to receive explanations were rejected.”
Wednesday’s meeting opened with the testimony of a 15-year-old girl, whose parents, Turkish nationals, attempted to go back to Turkey several years ago, but returned to Israel due to absorption difficulties experienced by their children.
The girl, who was born in Israel, told the committee of her hardships of going back without familiarity with the language and without knowing her local extended family members. She said that since the talk of deportations started in recent months, she has been afraid to leave the house and lives in constant fear of being arrested and deported.
Dr. Nurit Marcus, a psychologist who works with the Migrant Workers Hotline, an anti-deportation advocacy group, told the committee that deportation causes ongoing trauma for the children involved.
“In the current Israeli reality, the children of foreign workers are awash with trauma.
The children witness inspections and arrests by immigration unit officers on a daily basis. These inspections and arrests cause deep anxieties and send the message that they don’t belong.
“The constant encounters with the authorities cause ongoing fear and harm their personality development.
International studies show that ongoing anxiety situations cause great harm to children’s psyche,” Marcus continued.
“There is a strong likelihood that the deportation procedures and the deportation itself will traumatize the children in ways that will be destructive to their continued development.”
In a position paper submitted to the committee by the Migrant Workers Hotline, the authors presented the difficulties that may arise in the deportation process, including things like extended imprisonment of children, lack of medical care for handicapped or physically ill children in their destination countries and problems arising from mixed parentage – when the mother and father are from different countries. Among other challenges for the children could be social and cultural ostracism in their new homes and poverty due to their parents’ inability to pay back debts to employment agencies that brought them to Israel, according to the paper.
The Hotline cited passages from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which stipulates, “No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.”
They requested that the committee call on the government to reverse its decision on the arrests and deportations and focus instead on establishing a fair and effective immigration policy.
Yossi Edelstein, Interior Ministry director of Enforcement and Foreign Nationals, told the committee that the families who were arrested would spend 72 hours in prison if they chose to use their right to appeal the deportation. If they choose not to appeal, he said, they could be out of the country on the same day.
Minister of Minority Affairs Avishai Braverman (Labor), who also attended the meeting, said that a badly implemented job by the Interior Ministry would likely damage Israel’s reputation in the eyes of the world and do more harm than did the flotilla incident.
“We have asked for the decision to be readdressed in the cabinet and I hope the government will relieve Yossi Edelstein of his assignment,” he said.
Meanwhile, MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) said that he had already said that he was willing to break the law and hide families of foreign workers if necessary.
“One hundred twenty MKs should prepare their houses and hide the children there,” Gilon said. “MKs have immunity and their houses can’t be searched. It is moral to be a criminal in this case. The debate shouldn’t be about which prison the children should be held in and whether one is more comfortable than the other and which vehicle they will be transported in. This is their home.”
“We can’t change the government’s decision” said MK Orly Levy (Israel Beiteinu).
“Even when we speak our opinions they are not listened to. The question is how to soften the trauma?” In response to the committee’s statement, the spokeswoman for the Population, Immigration and Borders Authority of the Interior Ministry said, “The office is gradually preparing for the enforcement activity and that since it is an important and sensitive matter we want to prepare correctly and not quickly.”