Israeli children still not found

British officials are still refusing to disclose the whereabouts of two Israeli children who entered Britain unaccompanied, more than two months after their first contact with immigration officials.

The JC reported in July that a 12-year-old girl and her nine-year-old brother had been sent to Britain alone by their Tel Aviv-based mother. The girl had been kept under British welfare supervision for more than a month before contact was made with Tel Aviv authorities, prompting an astonished response from Israeli officials.

The JC now understands that the girl is thought to have claimed asylum here, while her nine-year-old brother is living with a family in Leeds. But UK authorities with a responsibility for the children have shown a remarkable reluctance to acknowledge their involvement - or even to reassure the public that the children are being properly cared for. Nor, apparently, has the Israeli embassy chosen to make contact with the children in recent weeks as a means of monitoring their welfare.

It has also emerged that the girl made a previous attempt to enter Britain in May, but was turned back at the airport by immigration control. When she returned to Israel, Tel Aviv social services held a meeting with her and the mother, who said she would not try to send her to London again.

The UK Home Office this week said it could not comment on individual cases. In Leeds, a City Council spokeswoman admitted that the authority was aware of the boy, but refused to comment further.

Varda Horesh, director of Tel Aviv's social services, said Israeli welfare authorities now believe the girl met a lawyer and claimed asylum when she returned to Heathrow for the second time on June 22.

The girl is now being held in a children's facility close to the airport.

Ms Horesh's department only began investigating the siblings' disappearance in mid-July after social workers discovered they were missing from home during a routine visit. It was another week before British officials alerted them to the girl's presence in London.

The children's mother, a 38-year-old Russian-born Israeli, was questioned in a Tel Aviv court on July 23, but was not charged with an offence. It is thought the children have had no contact with each other since arriving in England.

Israel's consul in London, Liora Givon, has been acting as an intermediary between the authorities in both countries. She last visited the girl on July 28 when a repatriation attempt was made, but the girl refused to board the plane to Israel.

When asked this week why she had not re-visited the girl, and whether she had met the boy, Ms Givon said: "I am doing only what I am told [by the Foreign Ministry]. I am just an intermediary. The Tel Aviv authorities are doing what they think is best for the children."

Ms Horesh said the boy is living with a family in Leeds, and added: "We keep in contact with the British welfare authorities every couple of days or so, and are being updated on the girl's condition. I understand she's in a good state."

Israeli officials believe the mother initially met the Leeds family when both families lived in London. Ms Horesh also confirmed the mother had accompanied her son when he came to England, possibly in July last year.

The children, and their four-year-old brother, were previously known to social workers, but Ms Horesh said there had been no plans to remove them from their mother's care.

She added: "We have good welfare authorities here who could have rehabilitated this family."

Chief Inspector Avi Rosh of Tel Aviv district police said an investigation into the case is still in progress.

The mother says that it's best for the kids to be raised in England. She's anti-Israeli and has a very negative attitude towards Israeli institutions," he said.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman confirmed no further action would be taken by British officers as they do not believe the youngsters are in danger.

    Last updated: 3:28pm, September 5 2008