Asylum Seekers in Israel Gain Freedom but Lose Health Coverage

The state will disavow responsibility for medical care except for those with certain illnesses or for whom a date has been set for surgery.

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
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African asylum seekers at the Holot detention facility protest the expulsion from Israel of others, February 17, 2014.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

The High Court order to release all asylum seekers who have been detained at Holot in the Negev for more than a year may restore their freedom, but it will leave some of them without health coverage or means to pay for expensive treatments.

The release of the first 1,178 asylum seekers from the facility is scheduled to begin Tuesday.

The State Health Insurance Law does not cover asylum seekers, and in many cases their employers paid for their health insurance before they were detained. Because asylum seekers detained at Holot are not allowed to work, those who had health insurance saw it canceled.

During their detention, the state paid for their medical care. But when they are released, the state will disavow responsibility for this service except for those with certain illnesses or for whom a date has been set for surgery.

For the others, private insurance companies will not pay for preexisting conditions.

In most cases, asylum seekers do not have the means to pay privately for treatment. For example, an asylum seeker who has a slipped disk and was receiving an injection once a month for pain will no longer receive it.

Moreover, the terms of their release from Holot prohibit asylum seekers from living in Tel Aviv; this measure restricts their access to medical services. Such services are funded by the state only at the Terem clinic at Tel Aviv’s central bus station and at the Gesher clinic in Jaffa.

On Monday, Physicians for Human Rights called on the Health Ministry’s director general to apply the State Health Insurance Law to asylum seekers.

Dr. Zoe Gutzeit of the physicians’ group said the director of the Bikur Rofeh clinic at Holot told her the state would continue funding treatment only for released asylum seekers with diabetes, tuberculosis and HIV. Others would be dropped from the waiting list for appointments, even if they had received funding approval from the Health Ministry for operations.

“Cutting off continuity of treatment, like cutting off continuity of insurance, as well as the geographic restrictions that the Interior Ministry is about to impose on those released from Holot all tangibly impair the right to health,” Gutzeit said in a letter. “They could lead to a deterioration in condition to the point of emergencies that require lengthy and expensive hospitalizations.”

She called the situation an ongoing injustice; it affects not only the current 1,000 or so people released, but also anyone who completes a year’s detention at Holot. “That is, many thousands of people in the foreseeable future,” she said.

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