South Sudanese child abuse victims face expulsion with families

Among the hundreds of South Sudanese slated for deportation is a group of children who have been removed from their parents’ custody due to severe domestic violence. The authorities have not taken steps to ensure their protection, and they risk not only immediate deportation, but a forced return to abusive families.

South Sudanese victims of child abuse who have been removed from the custody of their parents by Israeli welfare services are being targeted for deportation along with their families.

Yedioth Ahronoth reported today that immigration authorities arrived this week at several boarding schools at which South Sudanese refugee children were placed following court orders separating them from abusive parents. In one case, the authorities attempted to remove two panicked young girls – sisters who had reportedly suffered severe abuse at the hands of their father – but were stopped by school administrators upon consultation with local Welfare Ministry representatives.

In another case, a boy was removed from his boarding school and returned to the custody of his parents, without the involvement of welfare representatives. A Ministry of Interior spokesperson claimed the boy was not in the care of welfare services, but had resided in the boarding school upon his parents’ request. She told +972 that he would not be deported without a welfare assessment. However, he is now in Saharonim detention center with his family – all of them in deportation proceedings.

Roughly 20 South Sudanese children – belonging to 10 or so families – have been removed from their homes upon court order, as a result of child abuse. When the government announced several months ago its intention to deport all of the South Sudanese nationals residing in Israel, refugee advocates appealed to the Ministry of Interior on behalf of the children and their families, requesting it stay their deportation pending the conclusion of family treatment.

The MOI spokeswoman told +972, however, that the ministry has no list of the children in question, and that immigration officials went to the boarding schools “randomly” after they arrested South Sudanese parents who told them they could not fly without their children. She also said that the deportation of children removed from their parents’ care would be examined by welfare authorities on a case-to-case basis. A representative from the Aid Organization for Refugees, however, told +972 that she had been contacted by welfare officials asking her “what to do,” raising concerns of ineffective coordination between the Welfare Ministry and the Ministry of Interior.

After a court ruling last week removed the last hurdles to deportation, immigration authorities began an aggressive campaign to arrest South Sudanese nationals in Israel. Refugee advocates are now scrambling to account for those children in boarding schools, to intervene on their behalf and prevent their deportation to a new country on the brink of war without institutions that can effectively monitor the families.

The South Sudanese population in Israel numbers between 700 and 1,500, and is among the most veteran of Israel’s growing African refugee population. The community includes many families, some of which have resided in Israel since 2006, with Israeli-born children.  Until recently, South Sudanese nationals in Israel were afforded the same protection from deportation extended to Sudanese citizens. South Sudanese departures from Israel were carried out on a voluntary basis only, monitored by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Israel.

Noa Yachot is the managing editor of +972.