Migrants tell of grim conditions in holding facility for children

By Elizabeth Tsurkov

Twenty-six children with their mothers have been brought to a holding facility at Ben-Gurion Airport, and deportations are expected to speed up now that the school year is ending

Two Israeli NGOs have launched a campaign against the deportation of migrant children, following the deportations of 26 children and their mothers and disturbing reports about the conditions in the holding facility in which the families are being held before being deported. The deportations are the result of a government decision back in August 2010 that is now being implemented after a long delay due to public pressure.

The government decision in August of last year set out a number of criteria based on which it was estimated that out of the 1,200 migrant children in Israel, 800 would be granted stay permits and the rest would be deported. The majority of the migrant mothers lost their legal status for getting pregnant, as a result of a government policy that has since been struck down by the Supreme Court.

Since July of 2009, a campaign spearheaded by the NGO Israeli Children prevented the deportations time after time. The Minister of Interior explained the delay by stating that the Ministry was constructing a holding facility capable of housing the children and their mothers before deportation. The deportation of older children was further delayed due to the desire of the State to avoid the public outcry over deportation of children during the school year.

About 700 families that supposedly fit the criteria of the government decision submitted their requests to receive a stay permit. Out of those 700, the requests of 100 were summarily rejected. The other 600 families have not received any word about their legal status because the Minister of Interior decided to hold them hostage – they will not be given their stay permits until those families that do not fit the criteria will be deported. These 600 families have spent almost a year in uncertainty, unable to legally work and excluded from many of Israel’s protective laws due to the lack of legal status. During this year, some of children who didn’t fit the criteria a year ago (notably, being older than 5-years-old) are now eligible for the legal status according to the August 2010 decision.

In March, the first deportation of an undocumented migrant family took place and in the past two months the rate of deportations of children under the age of four was accelerated. 26 children and their mothers were arrested and taken to the holding facility constructed for them at the Ben Gurion Airport. Migrant rights NGOs expect the deportations to accelerate further now that the school year in Israel is about to end on June 30.

Rotem Ilan, the founder of Israeli Children, which launched the new campaign together with the NGO Hotline for Migrant Workers, says that their organization has received “very disturbing accounts” about the conditions at the Ben Gurion holding facility. Despite the child-friendly image of the holding facility that the Israeli government tried to promote, Ilan made it clear that “there are no social or medical services in the holding facility, and thus, far away from the public eye, the children and their mothers are being held in harsh conditions that are not fit for children.” One testimony about the holding facility came from a woman who was arrested and detained in the facility with her child, despite the fact that the Ministry of Interior knew that the father of the child has legal status in Israel. Due to this her deportation was prevented and she and her baby were released from the facility after a few days inside. The account she provided to lawyers at the Hotline for Migrant Workers is a harrowing one:

“They locked us inside the room from the moment we got there, and wouldn’t let us go out to the yard. We didn’t have soap or hot water and I had to prepare a bottle for the baby with no hot water. I showered the child with cold water in the sink. I had to bang on the door for a long time until they let me have warm water for the bottle… They gave me a document telling me that I’m entitled to call an attorney but wouldn’t let me call. I cried all the time and asked them to let me make the call. The inspectors kept telling me that the father doesn’t want to have anything to do with me or the child and that “he has had enough of you” and that he doesn’t love us.”

It has been reported that when Physicians for Human Rights doctor rushed to the holding facility to treat a sick child, he was prevented from entering and helping the child as the inspectors of the facility suspected the doctor might try to stop the deportation of the child and his mother. The holding facility is the only one operating in Israel without set guidelines and those who run it are not policemen or prison guards who are experienced with dealing with prisoners; instead the facility is managed by Ministry of Interior inspectors.

The new campaign includes an animation video (translated below) and on-the-ground activity, including a call to send letters to Israeli ministers urging them to stop the deportation via BibiDontDeport.com.


Elizabeth Tsurkov studies media and international relations at the Hebrew University and is a volunteer at Kav LaOved and Advocates for Asylum.