A Nigerian mother of four children whose incarceration for immigration offenses drew widespread criticism in recent days has agreed to leave Israel, and is expected to board a plane to her homeland later on Sunday.
Marcy, whose last name has not been publicized, arrived in Israel in 2010 and has remained in the country illegally. She and her four children had been at Givon Prison for over three weeks after she defied multiple court rulings against her bid to stay in the country.
Her case gained public attention after officials waited for the start of summer vacation to round up her children and jail them with her in what critics said was an attempt to pressure her to leave the country.
Marcy’s children were not alone in the prison. Two others were also incarcerated with another mother while their final deportation hearings were held. The oldest of the six jailed children is 7. The youngest is 1.
The jailing of the children was first revealed in reports in the Maariv daily and Channel 10 television, with the most recent report airing on Thursday and triggering a flurry of criticism that led Interior Minister Aryeh Deri to appeal to the Nigerian embassy in Israel to convince Marcy to leave the country.
After a conversation with Nigerian diplomats, Channel 10 reported, Marcy agreed to forgo any further legal proceedings and fly back to Nigeria with her children.
On Friday, the ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority, the state’s primary immigration body, said Deri had ordered “intensive efforts” to lead to Marcy’s swift deportation in order to allow the children to be taken out of the prison.
The authority was working to find Marcy and her children the earliest flights to Nigeria, the agency told The Times of Israel on Sunday.
A Nigerian government representative will be flying with Marcy and her children to Nigeria at the Israeli government’s expense in order to help her with the logistical challenges involved in the move, the agency said.
The jailing of the children for nearly a month drew widespread public condemnation, but the Interior Ministry defended the decision. “The lengthy period the mother and her children spent incarcerated happened at the mother’s initiative, since she could have boarded a flight to Nigeria long ago,” it said in a statement.
It noted that Marcy had lost multiple court appeals against her deportation. “The mother preferred not to cooperate, and to remain with her children in jail in order to pressure [the authorities] to go against the rulings of Israel’s courts,” the statement added.
Marcy has said that she chose jail over deportation back to Nigeria because she hopes her eldest son can get medical treatment in Israel for his severe asthma that he could not receive in Nigeria. Reports conflict as to the boy’s precise medical condition, with some outlets saying he had a heart condition.
“If they would just give me one more year for my son to get treatment… after that we’ll leave,” she told Israeli journalists in recent days.
Marcy’s husband was deported to Nigeria last year.
The children were allowed to play in the yard at the Givon Prison, but limited space and few toys left the children bored and restless, according to the television reports that first drew attention to their plight.
Prison staff also criticized the move, telling media they had not undergone specialized training to care for small children, but said they were doing what they could to make their stay comfortable.
A number of female staff members who are themselves mothers had brought toys, candy and books to the prison for the children.
“All of us have young kids, so we’ve become attached to them,” one officer said.