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30.06.2004 General News

Slavery In Israel : Untold story of 2 Ghanaian girls

By Chronicle
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- Deported after working 7yrs without pay - SONITRA project manager involved

WHEN MARIAM GUEL Yahaya left the shores of Ghana to continue her house-help duties in Haifa, Israel, with Mr. Rafic Cohen, Project Manager of Sonitra, an Israeli construction company undertaking projects in the country, little did she know that she was going into a sort of slavery.

Her expectations were very high, and her hope was to make some savings from her salary and come back home to help extricate her family from the manacles of poverty.

But after seven years of dedicated services, Mariam and her younger, Sister Ajaratu Guel, who also joined her elder sister in Israel in 2001, are back in the country, worse off, with empty hands and a sad story about their servitude in far away Israel.

To add insult to injury, Mr. Cohen and his wife, Routi Cohen, allegedly got their two “slaves” imprisoned in Israeli police cells for some weeks before they were finally deported back to Ghana late last year.

Reacting to the issues, Rafic denied enslaving Mariam for seven years and blamed his fellow countryman, Mr. Yosefi Gamliel, for the problem that had emerged between him and Mariam.

“We never sent Mariam to Israel to be our house-help, I consider her as my daughter and therefore sent her there on a visit,” Rafic told The Chronicle.

He claimed also that there had been no agreement between either him or his wife and Mariam to pay her $600 per month as a house-help.

“Since that boy, that taxi driver, came into the life of Mariam, her attitude changed towards us,” Rafic said in an interview.

He added, “I told Mariam that this man is dangerous and more so, you know how dangerous taxi drivers can be in every part of the world, and as a result Yosefi is poisoning the mind of Mariam to drag me to court so that he can make money from me to marry her and later dump her,” Rafic told this paper in an interview last week.

The story of Mariam and her sister could be traced to 1993, when Rafic Cohen, approached Guel Yahaya, the girls' father, who is a mechanic with Sonitra, to help him recruit a Ghanaian girl as home attendant.

Mr. Yahaya, seizing the opportunity, suggested that his daughter, Mariam, was interested in the job and at the age of 18, she started working with the Cohens as a house-help.

The Chronicle gathered that sometime in 1996, Routi Cohen, the wife of Rafic, was sick and had to be flown to Israel for a heart surgery and as she would need a house-help over there, it was decided that Mariam accompanied her.

The paper learnt that Mariam's travelling documents were not ready at the appointed time, and so the Cohens arranged with one of the company's Ivorian drivers who brought them his sister from La Cote d'Ivoire to accompany Mrs. Cohen to Israel to serve as a house-help.

After one year, the Ivorian girl left the Cohens and Mariam was sent to replace her in Israel.

It was agreed that she was to be paid about $600 per month, like all house-helps in Israel, but this promise has since turned out to be a mirage.

This paper learnt that after the first two months when Mariam asked for her salary, she was made to believe that her money had been lodged in a bank and at the due time it would be withdrawn for her.

But that due season is yet to come, as Mariam was shown the back exit when she, together with her younger sister, Ajaratu, who was also later recruited to join her in Israel by Rafic in 2001, was deported from Israel late last year, penniless.

It was gathered that apart from a $500 Mariam collected from Mrs. Cohen some time in 1999, upon persistent pressure, and remitted to her parents, nothing has been paid her for her seven years service she worked for the Cohens.

“After three years, I realized that I was in trouble because any time that I raised concerns about my salary and the whereabouts of my passport there was always a story to serve as an answer by my host,” Mariam told The Chronicle, when we traced her last week She said on her arrival in Haifa she was assigned to also serve the father and mother-in-law of Mr. Cohen, who were very old and stayed some miles away from the residence of the Cohens.

“When I realized that my salaries were not coming I pleaded with Mrs. Cohen to give me one day in every week to work outside so that I can earn some few dollars to buy some few things which I may need since my salaries were not being paid which after pleadings for sometimes she agreed to my request,” Mariam said, sorrowfully.

It was learnt that when Mariam left for Israel, her younger sister Ajaratu, was employed by Mr. Cohen to replace her in Accra.

When it became obvious that Mariam was overburdened by shuttling between the house of Mrs. Cohen and that of her aged parents, arrangement was made for Ajaratu, to join her in Haifa, in 2001 to take care of the older people.

On her arrival, she was told she would be paid about $500, one- third which was to be borne by the Israeli government under the a policy for aged people, while Mrs. Cohen and her husband reportedly agreed to pay the rest.

The Chronicle gathered that while the state fulfilled its part and regularly paid $150 into a bank as its share of the social obligation for the aged, Mrs. Cohen again failed to pay their part, claiming that even some big people in Ghana do not get anything closer to $500 as salary.

It was learnt that in July, last year, Mariam and her sister picked Ajaratu's salary statement of account from the bank and detected that Mrs. Cohen had flatly refused to pay her contribution.

This revelation therefore prompted the girls to confront their master and that was the beginning of their retributions in Israel.

The girls said when they questioned Mrs. Cohen why she was not paying her part of the salary, she told them they (she and the husband) had nothing to pay and a heated argument ensued.

A furious Mrs. Cohen thereafter threw out the girls' luggage and ejected them from her house, the paper was told.

It was Mariam's fiancée, Yosef Gamliel, who readily accepted them into his parent's house and promised to help them fight the case in court since, according to him they had been short-changed.

The case was indeed reported to a leading immigration lawyer in Tel Aviv, who, after listening to the case, filed a writ in court against the Cohens for 'enslaving' the two Ghanaians girls.

When the court heard the case, it was decided that the girls should be paid and the case be settled amicably, after which they were report back.

But a few days after the court decision, Mrs. Cohen allegedly reported the girls to security agents, claiming that they were illegal immigrants.

Mariam and her sister were therefore bundled by police, detained for weeks and later deported, penniless.

When the girls arrived in Accra, Rafic proposed to pay $3,000 to Mariam, for her seven years service, but she turned down the offer, saying she was prepared to pursue the case, still pending in the court in Israel, with the support Yosef Gamliel, who, the paper learnt, married her early this year.

While the issues were being pursued in court, it took a central stage in one of the Israeli newspapers, which took the Cohens to the cleaners.

Reacting to the Mariam's claim, Rafic denied they promised to pay Mariam $600 a month.

He also told the paper that it was Mariam who refused to come back to Ghana when her visiting clearance date was due.

“Any time that I tried to bring her home she would weep and refuse to eat and because I consider her as my daughter and the good relationship between me and her father, I decided to allow her to overstay in Israel,” he explained.

Rafic noted that he had spent a lot on the girl, and treated her like his own daughter and therefore blamed Gamliel for differences between him and the Guels.

“Mariam's father is against what she is doing but my compatriot, Yosef Gamliel, should be blamed because he wants to take money from me to marry Mariam and is therefore pushing her to pursue the case in court against me,” Rafic told the paper.

Even though Rafic claimed he did not owe Mariam, he agreed to pay $15,000 to avoid all the trouble.

He therefore pleaded with the Chronicle to talk to the victim to agree and accept $15,000 for peace to prevail.

Rafic said Mariam eventually stayed in Israel seven years, doing nothing, as at a certain stage both he and his wife were in Ghana and their children who were also grown-ups did not need any body to look after them.

As to why they did not renew the documents of Mariam during the seven years, Rafic claimed because the girl refused to come back to Ghana it escaped them to renew her documents.

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