Legal red tape keeps missing children in UK

By Michal Levertov and Marcus Dysch, September 19, 2008
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Two Israeli children sent unaccompanied to live in Britain by their mother may not return home before the end of the year due to legal red tape.

In July, the JC reported that a 12-year-old girl was sent to the UK alone by her Russian-born Israeli mother. The girl's nine-year-old brother arrived a year earlier, accompanied by the mother, who returned to Tel Aviv, leaving him to live with a family friend in Leeds. The girl has now claimed asylum here.

Officials in both countries are working to repatriate the children, but this week admitted their progress is being hampered by the intricacies of international law for dealing with minors.

The Israeli Ministry of Social Affairs said it could not estimate how long it would be before the youngsters returned. The Home Office said it was "not uncommon" for asylum cases to take "a couple of years".

Varda Horesh, director of Tel Aviv's social services, said the Israeli embassy in London was organising regular phone calls between welfare officers in both countries. She said her staff speak up to half-a-dozen times a week with the manager of the hostel where the girl is staying. In a call last week, the manager reported that the girl was "happy, content and wants to stay".

The hostel, believed to be in the West London borough of Hillingdon, is now thought to be responsible for all matters relating to the girl's wellbeing.

Leeds City Council social workers visit the boy once a week at the home of the family friend, Ms Horesh said.

Responding to a claim last week that the mother wanted to leave Israel and live in Britain with her children, Ms Horesh added: "If the question of a move to England to live there with the kids is raised, we will consider it."

Chief Inspector Avi Rosh of Tel Aviv District Police said that although the case is still under investigation, he expects it to conclude with the mother being charged with neglect of a minor and abandoning a minor.

The Home Office has again said that resolving the case is a "top priority".

    Last updated: 2:48pm, September 18 2008