For these Ghanaians, Israel became a home they don’t want to leave

As the government steps up its ‘voluntary departure’ campaign 220 men, women and children are going back to Ghana today

George Drako spent his last day in Israel in a desperate attempt to obtain a birth certificate for his son. Finding the Interior Ministry’s doors shut due to a strike, he rode his bicycle back to his apartment in Tel Aviv’s old bus terminal area, to continue packing his belongings in the container he will send to his homeland in Ghana

Drako’s son was born in Israel almost seven years ago, but his father thought he had plenty of time to get his birth certificate in the future. He was planning to return to Ghana in the coming year anyway, but thought he’d be able to do so on his own time. But the increasing number of friends were captured in the street and deported, and the growing number of employers who asked him not to come to clean their houses anymore, for fear of the police foiled his plans.

Drako will be joining some 220 men, women and children from Ghana today on a special flight chartered by the Immigration Police to get them out of Israel, in an operation dubbed “voluntary departure.” “It would be more appropriate to call it ‘voluntary expulsion,’” says Drako with a bitter smile.

The operation, which began at the end of July, was meant to avoid the unsavory spectacle of incarcerating and deporting families with children, and to enable families to settle their affairs and leave in an orderly fashion. Unlike the Romanian and Chinese construction workers, or Thai farm workers, the Ghanaians have raised families in Israel and some of them have been living here for many years. But the trauma of the children, who live in constant fear of the police pounding on the door or arresting their parents on the way to work prompted a few hundred Ghanaian families to register to the operation. Another flight for Accra Ghana’s capital is scheduled next week.

The number of Ghana natives in Israel is estimated somewhere between 2,000 to 3,000. Drako says he left Ghana because of the military regime and political instability there in the 1980s. As a devout Christian, he chose to come to Israel, wishing to see where Jesus lived and died. In Ghana he worked as an accountant. In Israel he has been cleaning floors and toilets for 12 years.

Drako left his two small sons with wife’s parents in Ghana. Many of the Ghanaians here left children behind, or sent children who were born in Israel to study in boarding schools in Ghana. Drako’s little son is excited by the thought of finally meeting his elder brothers. He is also waiting for the moment when he will no longer be afraid his parents would be arrested while he’s at school, as happened to some of his friends.

Drako himself hopes to become a farmer and grow cocoa and oranges on his family’s plot. “I always said I’d return to Ghana when it becomes a democracy,” he says. But he is leaving with mixed feelings. “If this is a democratic decision, for the good of the people, then I cannot object,” he says. On the other hand he believes the Israeli authorities could have reached an arrangement with the foreign workers without threatening them and hunting them down in the streets. And he is convinced the children who were born here should have been given Israeli citizenship.

“Since the days of Abraham, and then in the period of Ezra and Nehemiah, Jews were refugees in many foreign lands. They suffered and the whole world cried. To this day they get compensation fees for their suffering, but they are doing to us what was done to them. It’s shocking, inconceivable,” says Drako. He is one of the leaders of the community and active in the Pentecostal Church. “At every church activity we pray for Israel. How is it possible that the Israeli government can forget the history of its own people? When we talk among ourselves we feel betrayed.”

Nana Holbrock, of Ghana, who is considered the foremost leader of the African community in Israel, says at first the Ghanaians objected to leaving and were ready to risk arrest and being held in police custody. But as soon as the employers started slamming their doors in their faces they decided there was no point spending their meager savings on food and rent. Some of them hope they will find a way to leave Ghana to work in other countries, while others will try to set up small businesses with their savings. But Holbrock says that quite a few Ghanaians were financially burned after sending money to friends or relatives to invest back home, in a car or business, and the money was stolen or lost. Holbrock also sends money for the livelihood of his son, whom he has not seen more than 10 years, and for the rest of the family. “Many villages depend on the money we send,” he says.

Bishop Yao Ampado-Niarko, who arrived five years ago to run the church on Levanda street in south Tel Aviv is also leaving today. “People are confused. They didn’t want to leave, then decided to leave anyway; everyday they fluctuate, regretting their decision, then packing again. The police keep calling to make sure they’re leaving. I have made up my mind. I don’t want to be humiliated, have my arms and legs broken and be thrown into jail. I want to leave with dignity.”

Box

In its first year of activity, the Immigration Police formed in September 2002 issued deportation orders for 18,000 foreign workers who were working Israel without permits. A little over 40,000 additional foreign workers with and without permits, left without being expelled. During that period some 10,000 new foreign workers were brought into Israel, with work permits.

Nobody knows how many foreign workers were in Israel before the Immigration Police was formed, but they are estimated at 250,000 to 300,00. The number of foreign workers is being reduced, but it is already clear that in the coming year many thousands of new ones will be brought to Israel. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has rejected the treasury’s proposal to reduce the quota of agriculture workers from 28,000 to 19,00. Restaurateurs and industrialists have received an approval to import some 3,000 workers, and every month some 500 foreign home care workers arrive.

58,000 left 10,000 came
In its first year of activity, the Immigration Police formed in September 2002 issued deportation orders for 18,00 foreign workers who were working in Israel without permits. A little over 40,000 additional foreign workers, with and without permits left without being expelled. During that period some 10,000 new foreign workers were brought into Israel, with work permits.

Nobody knows how many foreign workers were in Israel before the Immigration Police was formed, but they are estimated at 250,000 to 300,000. The number of foreign workers is being reduced, but it is already clear that in the coming year many thousands of new ones will be brought to Israel. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has rejected the treasury’s proposal to reduce the quota of agriculture workers from 28,000 to 19,000. Restaurateurs and industrialists have received an approval to import some 3,000 workers and every month some 500 foreign home care workers arrive.

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