Facebook helps free migrant family jailed in Israel

Interior Ministry releases family after activist posts picture on Facebook claiming migrants from north Sudan, not S. Sudan.

Facebook Sudan 370 (photo credit: Facebook screenshot)
Facebook Sudan 370
(photo credit: Facebook screenshot)
Interior Ministry officials on Thursday released a 10-year-old girl from detention at Ketziot Prison, where she was being held with three members of her family, after an activist posted a picture on Facebook that claimed that the girl was from Sudan and not South Sudan as originally thought.
The photograph drew the attention of Interior Minister Eli Yishai.
Israel began deporting members of the country’s 700-1,500-strong community of South Sudanese on Sunday, but cannot deport those from Sudan, an enemy state.
The story began on Wednesday when an activist from Arad named Moran Mekamel sent a friend a picture of fifth-grader Chris, who was detained earlier this week along with her parents and her twin brother during round-ups of South Sudanese this week.
Mekamel’s friend, Yigal Shtayim, is a well-known activist in Tel Aviv who runs the “Levinsky Soup” charity that has handed out soup and other hot meals to African asylumseekers living in Levinsky Park.
Shtayim shared the story on his wall and the post was then picked up by “Chirping Statuses,” a Facebook page that shares humorous or notable statuses, and has over 100,000 likes. Hours later, a reply was posted from Yishai’s personal Facebook page, in which the minister vowed to examine the case and release the family if it turns out that they are in fact from Sudan.
By Thursday afternoon, Interior Ministry officials released the family while they carry out a final determination of their status.
On Thursday, Shtayim called the development a victory, but added that it highlighted how “there are similar people in detention now with such stories, and hopefully through this story, the government will start doing what the UN has been asking, and that is to examine each person’s country of origin thoroughly before taking them into detention and deportation.”
The situation isn’t so simple, according to Sabine Haddad, the spokeswoman for the Population, Immigration and Border Authority.
According to Haddad, the family was registered when they arrived in Israel as South Sudanese because they are Christian and most likely from an area near Sudan’s southern border.
“When they received their visas, they did so as South Sudanese and now that they were arrested, they said that they are from Sudan,” Haddad said, adding that the family has only been released while the case is examined, and no final decision on their status has been made.
Haddad said it is not uncommon for migrants to change which country they say they are from when the opportunity suits them, adding that they know of a large number of Ethiopian migrants who claim to be Eritrean because Israel cannot legally deport Eritreans to their homeland.