Child star of Oscar-winning film faces deportation

Fri Mar 4, 2011 3:49pm EST
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By Maayan Lubell

TEL AVIV (Reuters Life!) - Esther Aikpehae, 12, stars in an Academy Award-winning documentary. She is also facing deportation from the country which has been her home for a third of her life.

Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon's "Strangers No More" won an Oscar for best short documentary on Sunday. It tells the story of Esther's school where children of migrant workers and refugees from 48 states learn alongside native Israelis.

But the Oscar win is bitter-sweet for the school. Some 120 of its 830 pupils are facing deportation. The children's parents are in Israel illegally and a government clampdown is looming.

Israel's government set criteria last August to allow some 800 migrant children living across Israel to remain in the Jewish state with their families, but 400 minors do not qualify.

Esther, who comes from South Africa and is not Jewish, is one of them.

"I love Israel. I want to grow up in Israel. There's a reason I came here and they can't just decide one morning to deport all the children," Esther says in fluent Hebrew.

Esther came to Israel with her father Immanuel in 2007. He says he fled after his wife was killed by people the family owed money to and claims it is too dangerous to return home.

Their home is a one-room flat in south Tel Aviv, where many migrants live in squalid conditions. Esther's skinny ginger cat is named Shalom, Hebrew for 'peace'. Her electric keyboard sits beside a makeshift vanity table and laptop computer.   Continued...

<p>Esther Aikpehae, a 12-year-old born in South Africa, fixes her earring at a beauty salon in south Tel Aviv March 3, 2011. REUTERS/Nir Elias</p>