As the newly created "Oz" task force prepares to embark upon a widespread deportation raid against illegal aliens and their children, calls from the opposition to rethink the sweeping move are being voiced. A ynet investigation on Tuesday revealed that many government officials believe it best to act with compassion towards the children and to avoid deporting them.
A number of senior government ministers, however, refrained from commenting on the serious humanitarian issue. The Prime Minister's Office responded that they are still working on a solution.
About a month ago, the "Oz" unit went into action against illegal workers and has so far arrested hundreds of foreigners. With the stepped up deportation activity, demonstrations protesting the manner in which Israel treats illegal aliens and refugees from Africa have increased. Beside deportation, harsh criticism was leveled at the Gadera-Hadera protocol that forbids refugees absorbed by Israel from staying in the central region – as defined by the area between the towns Gadera and Hadera.
According to the "Oz" unit, they do not currently have anyone under the age of 18 in their custody, except for those whose parents wish to leave voluntarily. However, data from the aid hotline for foreign workers reveal that eight minors – seven from Egypt and one from Sudan – are being detained.
Additionally, the "Oz" unit commander announced that enforcement actions, including the detainment and deportation of families and their children, will be underway starting in August.
Data gathered by the Knesset Research and Information Department reveal that some 2,800 children of migrant workers and asylum seekers are currently in Israel. Most of them live in Tel Aviv. According to the law, foreign workers are not permitted to bring their children to Israel. In addition, a foreign worker who gives birth in Israel loses her visa and must leave the country within three months.
Following the wave of criticism over the planned action against migrant workers and refugees, the Prime Minister's Office issued a response at Ynet's behest that said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a preliminary discussion meant to find a solution for the children. He instructed PMO Director General Eyal Gabai to find a fair solution to the humanitarian issue in conjunction with the relevant professional officials.
'Legislative change required'
One of the few ministers to make a public statement on the burning issue is Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar. Sa'ar issues a response on Saturday night against the deportation of foreign workers' children.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai told Ynet Tuesday night that he believes children should be deported together with their parents, but this should not be adopted as a blanket policy to be applied in every case. The minister's office, which is responsible for the "Oz" task force, reported that Yishai met with the education minister to discuss the issue.
Rally supporting migrant workers. Sign reads 'We are all refugees' (Photo: Ofer Amram)
Yishai reportedly told Sa'ar that he understands and agrees with the humanitarian approach espoused by Sa'ar. Yishai claimed that children should be deported along with their parents because it is illegal for them to stay in Israel.
However, Yishai said that the Immigration Bureau will examine each case separately. "A legislative change is needed," said Yishai. "If the law requires that a child be deported along with his parents, legislation must be changed. I ask that all treatment of children be done with utmost sensitivity."
'No longer any refugees from Darfur'
Religious Services Minister Yakov Margi said, "The whole world deals with the immigration issue in a more serious manner than we do. This is a core social and cultural threat to the State. This is the only Jewish state we have. We are a humanitarian state towards children. You can't just say 'yes' or 'no' in one fell swoop."
Minister Margi also called for more oversight of the borders. "The foreign workers must be deported, but first of all, the borders need to be sealed off. What is happening in this country is outrageous. Take what is happening in Arad, for instance. It is an entire city abandoned to the benefit of all kinds of infiltrators hiding under the cloak of being refugees. There aren't any more refugees from Darfur. It's a joke," claimed Margi in a conversation with Ynet.
Israelis against deportation (Photo: Imri Hefner)
Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog said that the children of foreign workers must be treated with kid gloves. Herzog told Ynet: "A broad-level, comprehensive discussion must be held with all the relevant officials on the issue, which is a painful one involving vulnerable children who have fallen into a complex bureaucratic situation. Some of these children have already integrated into Israeli society. We are committed to provide a solution for them and to evade their suffering and difficult future mental scarring that would result from their uprooting from their homes and place of birth."
'Give them citizenship'Labor MK Eitan Cabel claimed that the children of foreign workers should be given Israeli citizenship, drawing on the biblical experience of Israelites in Egypt.
The opposition Kadima party believes that additional thought must be given to the issue of deporting children and that Israel is committed to upholding international standards for refugees and children.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child stipulates that children of labor immigrants and asylum seekers are entitled to a number of rights, including the right to education, health, a reasonable standard of living, and personal security. According to Israeli law, these children are entitled to full educational services and partial welfare services, but are not to the full services provided by Social Security and the health care law.
Ronen Medzini contributed to this report