Middle East

Israel modifies plans to deport migrant worker families

Eustace Uzoma

Little Eustace Uzoma plays happily in a Tel Aviv park, near the home in which she has lived ever since she was born.

The shy five-year-old speaks fluent Hebrew and is already in the school system.

But she is almost oblivious to the fact that there are some people in the Israeli government who want to deport her and other children who are fully assimilated into Israeli society, because their parents are here illegally.

Israel has approved plans to deport the families of illegal migrant workers, and government spokesman Roei Lachmanovich told the BBC the plan would affect some 400 children and their parents.

Image caption Vincent Uzoma says Israel should recognise the birthright of children born within its borders

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the move was made because the country faced increasing illegal migration, which was a threat to its Jewish character.

Eustace's father, Vincent, is originally from Nigeria but came to Israel 14 years ago on a legal tourist visa.

Having outstayed his official welcome, he settled down here and a job, got married and had children.

"It's unfair and unjust," says Vincent of the deportation plan as he carefully watches his youngest daughter on the swings.

"These children are born here and speak the language. Israel should recognise their birthright."

For years Israel encouraged foreign workers from the developing world to come here and do the poorly paid, menial jobs that Israelis did not want to do.

Now, wanting to reduce its dependence on overseas labour, Israel says many of those workers must leave even if they have children who were born here.

'Bringing disease'

Campaigners like Noa Kaufman from the organisation Israeli Children says the recent sight of immigration inspectors conducting spot checks on people in the street is tantamount to persecution.

"You can't simply put a child and its mother, against their will, on a plane out of the country to somewhere the child doesn't know," says Ms Kaufman.

"They live here, they have friends here but now the government wants to separate them from everything they know."

Some Ministers in Israel's coalition, including Interior Minister Eli Yishai from the religious Shas Party, say they cannot grant more than 1,000 families permanent residency simply because their children were born in Israel.

Mr Yishai caused an outcry last year when he accused migrant workers of bringing with them "a profusion of diseases... and drug addiction".

In need of reform

According Mr Netanyahu, controlling immigration is largely about preserving Israel's Jewish character and his government intends to deport all illegal immigrants by 2013.

Immigration laws in Israel make it extremely hard for people to stay if they are not Jewish, but the scale of protest against these controversial proposals appears to have brought about a compromise of sorts.

Under pressure the government will now allow many children who have assimilated into Israeli society, those who go to school and speak Hebrew, to stay.

Hundreds of others - who do not fit into that category but who were still born here - will have to leave along with their families.

While there may be good news for five-year old Eustace and her family, others of a similar age will be sent to countries they do not know, with languages they do not understand.

By the government's own admission, Israel's immigration policy is unsatisfactory and is in need of reform.

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