Eritrean girl stabbed in Israel as a baby finds home abroad

European country agrees to take in family of Kako Yamena, who was badly injured by an Israeli man in Tel Aviv

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

File: Illustrative photo of Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers in Tel Aviv (Nicky Kelvin/Flash90)
File: Illustrative photo of Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers in Tel Aviv (Nicky Kelvin/Flash90)

A young Eritrean girl who was stabbed in the head as a baby two years ago by an Israeli man has been granted asylum, along with her immediate family, in a European country.

The family moved to the unnamed country last week, where they were accepted on humanitarian grounds, the Haaretz daily reported on Monday.

Kako Yamena was born in Israel and is now three-and-a-half years old. In January 2014 her mother, Yordanes, was carrying her in a street near the central bus station in Tel Aviv when Mordechai Michael Zaretsky, 59, attacked them, stabbing the girl in the head with a pair of scissors.

“On the one hand, the family is very excited. And on the other hand, it is understood that they are going a place where all their friends and community, including the Israelis surrounding them, won’t be there,” said Sigal Avivi, a rights activist who was involved in the case since the stabbing.

“That bothers them a lot. The girls grew up here, they speak Hebrew, and as far as they are concerned this is their home. The older daughter really didn’t want to go.”

Yamena was seriously injured and spent several weeks on a respirator with doctors struggling to help her recover. Even now she shows symptoms of motor damage, walks with a limp, and needs regular rehabilitation treatment.

Zaretsky, who told police that God had sent him to kill a black baby, was eventually found unfit to stand trial and was committed to a psychiatric hospital.

Despite the assailant’s racist declarations, the state didn’t recognize Yamena as a victim of a hate crime, the report said.

Although former interior minister Gilad Erdan granted her humanitarian status in Israel, it did not extend the same conditions to her mother; her father, Mulo; or sister Ruth, now aged five.

As a result, the report said, she was not eligible for allowances from the National Insurance Institute to pay for her medical treatments, which come to thousands of shekels every month. Although an inter-ministerial committee debated giving the entire Yamena family humanitarian status, it failed to reach a decision. At one point, Mulo was summoned to the Holot detention center in the south of the country, where migrants can be held for up to a year. However, the summons was eventually canceled.

After the stabbing, the family lived in Tel Aviv’s Hatikvah neighborhood, surviving on donations from members of the public and with the aid of human rights organizations.

Rights groups were eventually able to negotiate the move to Europe, where the family will be granted humanitarian rights to remain in the country, as well as medical treatment and social welfare benefits.

One of the conditions for the arrangement was that the hosting country would not be identified, so as to prevent any confrontation with Israel.

Official figures show there are some 45,000 illegal migrants and asylum seekers in Israel, almost all of them from Eritrea and Sudan.

Most of those who have not been detained in Holot live in poor areas of southern Tel Aviv, where there have been several protests over their presence.

Right-wing politicians have called for action to limit illegal migration, and rights groups say thousands of asylum seekers from African countries have been coerced into “voluntary” departures.

Since 2006, Israel has struggled to establish and implement a clear legal framework to deal with the large influx of migrants, resulting in confusing — and often conflicting — ad-hoc immigration policies.

The influx has slowed dramatically of late, as Israel has sealed off its border with Egypt more effectively.

The vast majority of African migrants living in Israel claim asylum-seeker status, but the state has recognized fewer than one percent as asylum claimers and, since 2009, less than 0.15% — the lowest rate in the Western world.

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