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25.03.2005 Diaspora News

No holiday spirit for children of foreign workers

By Jerusalem Post

(Jerusalem Post) -- Purim is fifth-grader Galit Touffour's favorite Jewish holiday. She and her friends have a party at school, they learn about the story of Esther and they get to walk in a parade. Best of all, they don't have to wear their uniforms. This year, Touffour dressed up as a pirate . But Touffour's in no mood for celebrating.

Under guidelines drafted by Interior Minister Ophir Paz-Pines this month and to have been voted on by interministerial committee on Wednesday, Touffour would have been among the children of foreign workers to receive permanent residency and eventually Israeli citizenship. But the decision was once again put off, leaving the children without any legal status.

When Avraham Poraz of Shinui became the Interior Minister, he vowed that he would grant status to children such as Touffour. His proposal offering a one-time amnesty to these children, however, raised legal questions about whether Palestinian children residing in Israel illegally would also have to be given status. When the issue finally came before the interministerial committee just before Poraz left office, Likud ministers united in opposition to the plan, and Poraz delayed the vote rather than risk losing it.

Upon entering office Paz-Pines also said he would resolve the problem, and indicated he already had the Justice Ministry on board when he met with the interministerial committee on Wednesday. But this time, the Finance and Industry, Trade and Labor ministries voiced opposition.

The proposal "is an absolute contradiction to the consistent policy of the government to shrink the scope of employment of foreign workers," Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu wrote in a letter. He estimated the cost to the country in social benefits for the children and their families to be NIS 90 million. "There is no doubt that a message like this will be a motivator to foreign workers to do all that they can in order to fit the criteria that grant them status according to the [proposal]."

Paz-Pines's proposal was more stringent than Poraz's, limiting applicability only to children born in the country and whose parents could prove they had entered the country legally. Touffour, who was born here to parents who came from Ghana in the early 1990s, was one of the 2,000 to 3,000 the Interior Ministry estimated would be eligible. Foreign worker advocacy groups charged that the number was significantly inflated, and pressed for the guidelines to be eased.

"Many human rights organizations talked to us and said many children are left behind, and still many Likud ministers didn't want it. If there were another [broader] decision, it would be impossible to get it approved," said an Interior Ministry spokesman. He added that Paz-Pines intends to hold another committee meeting to resolve the issue soon.

Touffour said most of the illegal foreign worker families had already been deported, so she thought those who stayed wouldn't have a problem receiving status by now.

"There were a lot of us, but now there's almost nobody because they took everybody," she said of the government's deportation policy. "What does this mean if they don't want more [of us] and they don't want less? They just don't want us to be here."

Victoria Touffour, Galit's mother, said that after watching so many friends being deported – and her husband arrested twice – in the raids to which her daughter alluded, she was ready to leave. But Galit's strenuous objections to going keep her here. Victoria anticipated some relief on Wednesday, but found none. "I told her, 'Galit, let's go,' and she started to cry 'No, I don't want to go!'"

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