Brkitay Gebru with her sons, Tariki, 4, and Natanael, 3, in the courtyard of their building where immigrants from Eritrea and other countries rent rooms in Tel Aviv.

Brkitay Gebru stands with her sons, Tariki, 4, and Natanael, 3, in the courtyard of their building where immigrants from Eritrea and other countries rent rooms in Tel Aviv. She works as a janitor in order to make ends meet. “It’s hard. 4,000, 5,000 shekels ($1,000-$1,300) is what I earn. The house is 2,000 shekels ($520), and there’s food and after-school care for the children. It’s not enough.”

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Jodi Hilton/PRI

The Israeli government offers cash and free flights to African asylum seekers who agree to return home or fly to other African countries — an incentive to get them to leave. The measure is bringing down the number of African migrants in Israel, currently about 45,000.

But an inadvertent effect of this policy is that some African men — hoping to get smuggled to Europe — are abandoning their families in Israel to claim the government cash. 

Related: This Eritrean woman found out her husband had abandoned her when she couldn't find her bank card to pay rent

In Tel Aviv, Brkitay Gebru, a 29-year-old Eritrean asylum seeker, says her husband disappeared in February. She believes he flew to Africa with Israeli help.

Now Gebru is working long hours as a cleaner to support two energetic boys who wonder when their father is coming home.

Brkitay Gebru, an Eritrean asylum seeker, is raising sons in Tel Aviv’s Shapira neighborhood, home to many recently arrived immigrants. Gebru believes her husband took advantage of an Israeli program to provide cash grants and free flights to migrants and asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan who agree to return to Africa. “I’m very angry that he left Israel. It’s very hard, especially with the children.”

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Jodi Hilton/PRI

Tariki Gebru, 4, looks in the mirror in a small room he shares with his mother and younger brother in the Shapiro neighborhood of Tel Aviv. His father abandoned the family and went back to Africa, leaving his mother to care for her two young sons.

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Jodi Hilton/PRI

Brkitay Gebru wakes every morning at dawn to care for her children.

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Jodi Hilton/PRI

Brkitay Gebru holds photos of her sister and mother. She hasn't seen them since 2010, when she left Eritrea and undertook the dangerous journey to Israel through Egypt’s Sinai desert. She is among more than 60,000 Eritreans and Sudanese asylum seekers who entered Israel in the last decade, fleeing military dictatorships and genocide.

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Tariki Gebru, 4, speaks with a neighbor, Ethiopian Israeli Mazal Kfyalew. She immigrated to Israel in the 1990s and sells ingera, the traditional flatbread she often brings to Gebru and her sons. She says she pities them, living in such difficult circumstances.

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Brkitay Gebru prays at an Eritrean Church, one of many in an immigrant neighborhood of Tel Aviv. “Many women have no husbands. They go to Africa, they go to Sudan, they go to Ethiopia ... without women,” explained Father Ignatios Aragawi.

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Jodi Hilton/PRI

Boys gather outside an Eritrean Church in Shapira, an immigrant neighborhood of Tel Aviv.

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Jodi Hilton/PRI

Brkitay Gebru escorts her son Tarik, 4, to kindergarten. Each morning, she wakes early because she must prepare and take her sons to school before heading to her job as a janitor — a one-hour bus ride from home.

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Jodi Hilton/PRI

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