Last update - 02:26 12/03/2008

Where's my mom? Arrested by Egyptian border police

By Vered Lee

"Mama, mama," 18-month-old Lydia calls to every woman who passes her in the refugee shelter on Har Zion Boulevard in Tel Aviv. Her father, Yosef M., holds her close, helpless, trying to hold back his tears. "She cries all night, and doesn't sleep," he says.

At the beginning of February, Yosef and his family, refugees from Eritrea, crossed the border from Egypt to Israel. As he was crossing, he realized his wife, Meheta, 40, and his son, Fasiqa, 4, had been caught by the Egyptian police. He has not had any contact with her since. Advertisement

"I asked for help from the United Nations and they told me it's complicated." he says.

Yosef and his family fled Eritrea to Sudan, where they lived for three years until their lives were in danger. Now, Yosef spends his days walking Lydia in her carriage. "I can't work because I have to take care of Lydia," he says. "The separation was cruel and she has anxieties," he adds after a long silence.

During the interview, someone comes by and gives him baby clothes and formula. "I need food for Lydia, but most of all I need to find her mother," he says.

At 7:30 P.M., in Levinsky Park in Tel Aviv, Samuel G. is doing his best to coax a smile from his eight-month-old son as he deftly feeds him formula from a bottle. But Ibrahim only stares quietly at his father.

Samuel, 30, and his wife Avrahesh, 28, fled from Eritrea to Sudan, where they lived for three years, until Samuel was thrown into jail. "After I got out, I felt I was in danger, so we fled," he says. On December 31, 2007, they crossed from Egypt into Israel. Samuel went first, carrying the baby; Avrahesh followed, but was arrested by the Egyptian police when her clothes got caught on a barbed-wire fence. "Because I was with a baby, the police in Israel let me go. They threw me in Be'er Sheva and from there I got to Tel Aviv."

Ibrahim, who had malaria in Sudan, was hospitalized twice in February. Samuel shows the baby's medical documents, including a recommendation that Ibrahim see a pulmonary specialist. Samuel says he receives money from friends to buy medicine. "When we reached Tel Aviv, we went to a refugee shelter, but the crowded conditions and the health situation made him sick. I can't sleep in the shelter any more because I'm afraid he will get sick," Samuel says.

Meanwhile, Samuel's friends are letting him sleep in their apartment.

Samuel has a work permit, but cannot be away from his son because of his health. "I live on the kindness of friends, but I can't go on like this forever," Samuel says.

Samuel has approached the United Nations High Commission on refugees about his wife, but they have been unable to help. "Recently I was able to call her and she said she has been released from jail. I don't know where she's living," he added.

Samuel has recently received a contribution that enables him to leave Ibrahim in day-care from 7 A.M. to 7 P.M. "This is an excellent solution, but I don't know how I will pay the day-care next month," he says.

The Interior Ministry said it was not responsible for cases such as Samuel's and Yosef's, however, "following the question from Haaretz and in the fact that these are first and foremost humanitarian matters, the head of the Population Administration, Yaakov Ganot, has approached the [Israel representative of the] UN High Commissioner on Refugees, Miki Bavli, to check whether action may be taken vis-a-vis the Egyptian authorities on the matter."