A group of Liberian refugees given sanctuary in Israel now face deportation and fear their lives will be in danger if they are repatriated
Liberia's on-off civil war from 1989 to 2003 devastated the once prosperous West African state and killed more than 200,000 people. The United Nations ruled last year that it was safe for refugees to return home, but many, traumatised by the deaths of family members there, are still fearful.
"The U.N. has declared Liberia a safe place, we don't believe it," said Mawatta, 35, who gave only her first name.
She said gunmen had killed her father and husband during the conflict and had repeatedly raped her before she escaped. Rape was perpetrated by all factions in the civil war and sexual abuse remains rife nearly four years after the conflict ended.
Mawatta, from Lofa county in northwest Liberia, said she had reached Israel in 1998.
"My sister went back to Liberia in 2004 from Israel and was killed by the same people who killed my father. I am only asking for an extension until things get better for me to go home," she said trying to hold back tears at a run-down Tel Aviv apartment.
Israel granted temporary protection in 2002 to a group of Liberians, who now number 86, including 16 children born in Israel. Most of them have been in Israel for at least 10 years, mainly working in the coastal city of Tel Aviv as cleaners and dishwashers.
Their protected status expires on March 31 and Israel's Interior Ministry has said it plans to send them home.
"I know I am a marked man if I return," said a 36-year-old former colonel in the Liberian rebel force led by former warlord and president Charles Taylor.
"I was forced to fight. Otherwise I would have been killed," said the former officer, who gave his name only as Amarah.
He told Reuters he still did not know if his wife and two children had survived after opponents tried to kill him and his family in 2006. He fled to Israel via Egypt.
Israeli human rights lawyer Ari Syrquin, representing most of the Liberians, said the majority had asked for an extension.
In recent years Israel has sought to deport illegal foreign workers, many of whom Christians, saying it wants to reduce unemployment. Human rights groups say the policy also aims to maintain the Jewish population's majority in Israel.
It is difficult for non-Jews to obtain residency in Israel. Some of the Liberians are Christians, while others are Muslims.
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