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Kate Shuttleworth, Tel AvivJanuary 7, 2014

The protests over Israel's treatment of refugees and migrants have been increasing. One Eritrean family is fighting for its official recognition and the right to live in Israel.

african protesters
Image: Reuters

Bet El turns two in July this year and is still unaware of the impact Israel has on her life. When she was born, Israel refused to put her father's name on her birth certificate.

Her parents Ruth Welideslage, 27, and Garber Gabramora, 34, were married in Eritrea in 2005. They have two sons who are still in Eritrea - Milkas, 7, and Yad El, 5. Gabramora has never met his second son.

Unlike many refugees Gabramora didn't pay smugglers to ensure his passage into Israel - he was kidnapped.

He spent 10 years in the Eritrean military doing driving and welding work. His wife was hurt during her second pregnancy and couldn't look after their first son. A message was sent to Gabramora in the military. It was never given to him.

"Another person from where I lived was on vacation from the service and when he came back to the same unit he asked if I got the message. I went to the officers and asked if it was true, I was very upset and ran away."

Three weeks later two military personnel came to his house and arrested him even though he tried to reason with them. He was put in prison in Assab, an Eritrean port town, for refusing to go back to the military but managed to escaped from there to Ethiopia and then to Sudan where he contacted his family.

"I was working welding in Sudan and they offered me a job somewhere else, they took me in the car to Sinai without my permission - I was kidnapped." He was ordered to pay 2,500 euros - which he managed to scrape together from family friends.

"I was held, there wasn't any violence - but they wanted to send me to Israel."

The promised land?

Most smugglers transport people across the border hidden in trucks but Gabramora went on foot and was shot at by Egyptian security and was lucky to live. Meanwhile his wife had no idea where he was and was worried.

"I didn't know if he was in prison, in Eritrea, in Ethiopia. Only when he called from Sudan I finally knew," she said.

When he arrived in Israel Gabramora was put in Saharonim prison for six months and, upon his release, given a bus ticket to Tel Aviv.

prison fence with barbed wire
Israel has set up controversial "open" detention centers to cope with the influx of African migrantsImage: DW/K. Shuttleworth

“When I came to Tel Aviv I thought they were sending me somewhere and that someone would welcome me off the bus, someone would give me a place to live or something to eat - there was nothing. I didn't know anyone and I didn't even have any money to buy water. I spoke to a few people and they said everyone is like this, in a few days you will know what to do and how to get along."

He eventually got work in Netanya and then moved to Yavne later. He also started working on getting his wife to Israel. She was put in prison when the Eritrean military found Gabramora was missing and was ordered to pay 3,500 euros.

"I said I would pay the money but I needed time, they gave me three months to get the money, when I was released I ran away to Ethiopia, my children stayed with his mother - she is very old and not able to take care of them," said Welideslage.

Gabramora paid 750 euros for his wife to come to Eritrea a year later in 2010. She crossed the Sinai border and was put in prison for six weeks.

Gabramora and Welideslage now live in Yavne, south of Tel Aviv. Gabramora has work welding but at the moment his visa has expired so his work is likely to dry up.

Their first daughter Bet El was born in Israel in 2012. Her birth certificate does not include Gabramora's name.

Fighting for recognition: Gabramora wants his name on his daughter's birth certificateImage: DW/K. Shuttleworth

Restrictive rights

Until now Israel has only been issuing birth certificate to foreigners with the mother's name - even though Gabramora asked the interior ministry to issue a full birth certificate that included both his and his wife's names.

"They told me this is the law, I asked the man at the counter if his children's birth certificates were only under his name, and he told me no, I then asked him, why should mine be," he said.

"This is treating babies like an animal, it's very important for my daughter to have my name on the birth certificate," he said.

Gabramora and Welideslage are expecting their second child in three months and under new rules being debated by Israel, this baby may have no birth certificate at all.

The state clamps down

Israel plans to stop issuing birth certificates to the children of foreigners born in Israel, leaving them without any official government document confirming their birth, a move which is against the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The move will target all babies born to all foreigners, from diplomats to refugees.

Being without a birth certificate could present many difficulties according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), including applying for passports, moving to another country, getting married or attending college.

Israel says it is not obliged to issue documentation and wants to stop foreigners using birth certificates to stay in the country. Papers filed to the High Court at the end of 2013 revealed the government's plan to only issue handwritten birth notices when a child is born in a hospital - but the notices would not be official documents.

The government says it has no legal obligation to issue official birth certificates and it would make the changes because it feared migrants were exploiting official birth certificates to obtain legal status in Israel.

ACRI has now lodged a legal challenge on behalf of a family of asylum seekers from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The child was born to parents with permission to stay in Israel and who had work permits, but was denied a birth certificate that included the father's name.