The Health Ministry has blasted the immigration police for its "inhumane and unworthy" policy of "ambush[ing]" African asylum-seekers near the ministry's new clinic in Tel Aviv's central bus station, which it set up for foreigners needing urgent care but lacking health insurance.
The ministry said it contacted the police and the Interior Ministry's Population, Immigration and Border Authority to ask that it avoid detaining foreign workers near the clinic. "For the immigration police to ambush [migrants] coming to receive medical treatment or exploit the clinic to catch illegal residents is an inhumane and unworthy activity," the ministry said, stressing that the ongoing patrols could deter people from seeking badly needed health care.
The furor arose this week after four African asylum-seekers were arrested near the clinic, which opened last week. The population authority said it had not been informed about the new clinic, whose location in the bus station in south Tel Aviv is surrounded by tens of thousands of asylum-seekers and foreign workers. The population authority maintained that asking inspectors to cease enforcement activities in the central bus station area was "not realistic."
The clinic was opened on the recommendation of a Health Ministry committee that was formed following a public storm last summer when Ichilov Hospital tried to separate migrants and Israelis in its clinics and wards.
The NIS 3.2 million clinic is meant to serve people who need urgent treatment, and it is run by Terem, which operates a network of urgent care clinics elsewhere in the country. So far the clinic has been treating around 35 people a day.
This week, only a few days after the clinic opened, inspectors from the population authority's Oz enforcement unit were filmed patrolling on the bus platform level of the station, only one flight above the clinic. The inspectors were filmed detaining refugees and foreign workers on the escalator, and they eventually arrested four of them.
Physicians for Human Rights, which viewed the video, complained to the Health Ministry and asked it to intervene with the Interior Ministry and make sure that Oz inspectors stay away from the area of the clinic, since their presence was liable to deter people from seeking medical care. Shahar Shoham, director of the migrant department for PHR, wrote to Health Ministry director-general Prof. Ronni Gamzu, asking him to assure migrants and refugees safe passage to the clinic. "We know of a few instances in the past of migrants and refugees being arrested in the central bus station, but now that an official clinic has been opened in the station by the Health Ministry, there is an obligation not just to medically treat those lacking status but also to assure their safe access to the clinic, as an inseparable part of the conditions that must exist for them to exercise their right to health care," Shoham wrote.
The regulations issued by the population authority in 2003 regarding arrests of illegal foreign workers state that no arrests would be made in health care facilities, such as hospitals and health maintenance organization clinics. Nothing is said, however, about enforcement in the areas near such facilities.
Shoham called on the Health Ministry to "assure that the migrants and refugees can freely enter the building of the new central bus station and move freely within it to the clinics, without having to fear being arrested or stopped for inspection."
But the population authority refused to agree to suspend enforcement activities at the bus station. It claimed it had never been informed of a clinic opening at the site, adding that "in accordance with our work procedures, there is no enforcement in health clinics, nor will there be enforcement in this instance."
With that, it said, "A request to stop enforcement in the entire area is not realistic and is not relevant to our work routine."