Israel has begun rounding up scores of Filipina workers and their Israel-born children for deportation, prompting large-scale protests outside the prime minister’s residence and at the country’s Ben Gurion Airport.
After Israel’s Population and Immigration Authority last month handed scores of Filipina workers and their children deportation papers, requiring them to leave the country within weeks, Israeli authorities have now begun rounding up families and transporting them to detention centres.
Israel grants visas to a quota of foreign workers every year, many of whom are women from the Philippines who work as caregivers. Israeli law states that a migrant worker is entitled to remain in the country with her baby until her visa expires, but the child is not granted Israeli citizenship.
Though Israel claims that those being rounded up “are foreign nationals who’ve been [in Israel] illegally for a long time, without any legal status,” according to an Haaretz report last month the women’s visas “were not renewed because they gave birth [in Israel]”.
On Tuesday Immigration Authority officials raided the home of one Filipina worker, Geraldine Esta, in Ramat Gan, east of Tel Aviv. The officials arrested the mother and her children, ten-year-old Kiyan and five-year-old Katherine, as well as another Filipina woman and her baby who had been in the house. All were transferred to a prison in Beit Dagan, next to Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport.
Photos of the deportation published by +972 Magazine showed Esta surrounded by uniformed officials as she tearfully carried her daughter – clutching a doll and sucking a pacifier – out of their home. Other photos showed neighbours comforting distraught friends of the family and an Israeli official carrying the family’s belongings out of the house.
A number of protests have been held since the Esta family were detained, with family friends gathering at Ben Gurion Airport in a bid to stop their deportation. Demonstrators chanted slogans such as “This is where my life is, my heart is Israeli” and “Dery, Dery, interior minister, don’t hurt children”.
A lawyer representing the family, Haya Mena, read a letter by one of the children, Kiyan, to the protesters: “I am Israeli and don’t want to go to the Philippines. I want to stay in Israel and I love you. I don’t want to leave.”
Most of the children have never been to the Philippines, having been born and raised in Israel and attended Israeli schools. Many speak Hebrew as their first language and cannot speak Filipino.
Earlier this week immigration authorities also arrested another Filipina worker, Ofresina Koanka, and her 12-year-old son, Michael James, from their home Yehud, central Israel. On Tuesday, a Tel Aviv court issued a temporary stay on the pair’s deportation while an appeal is still pending.
The two are also being held at Ben Gurion Airport while they await a decision on their case. Protesters gathered in Jerusalem outside the prime minister’s residence to protest their detention, with demonstrators holding placards with photos of the mother and son and the words: “Stop the deportation of Michael James”.
Filipinos are not the only minority community in Israel targeted by such deportation practices. Israel also hosts a number of asylum seekers, many of whom originate from war-torn Eritrea and Sudan and, like the Filipino community, largely live in south Tel Aviv and central Israel.
Israel has repeatedly tried to rid itself of these communities, with Israel Hayom in October 2017 revealing that Netanyahu had signed a deal with a “third country” that would allow their forcibly deportation. Rumours quickly surfaced that Rwanda was the “third country” – a claim it vehemently denied – while commentators suggested the deal formed part of a wider agreement which would see the east African country granted Israeli arms in return for taking its forcibly-displaced asylum seekers.
In January 2018, Israel issued a notice for thousands of African asylum seekers to leave the country or face imprisonment. By March, under huge pressure from the international community and the UN’s refugee agencies, Israel’s Supreme Court cancelled the deportation scheme. Many of those asylum seekers it had planned to deport remained in Israeli prisons throughout the spring, some of whom were finally released in April of that year.