Asylum Seeker Thrown Out of Detention Center After Stroke

Abed al-Karim had to leave his job and apartment to come to Holot, which refused to help when he suffered a crippling stroke.

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
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Al-Karim at Soroka Hospital this week.
Al-Karim at Soroka Hospital this week.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkowitz
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

An asylum seeker from Sudan who suffered a stroke in Holot detention center was forced to wait three days before being taken to a hospital. When he was sent back two weeks later, the detention center threw him out instead of offering the medication and rehabilitation he needed.

“His case is the worst I’ve come across since Holot opened. It’s a multi-system failure of the first degree, from the negligent medical care he received in the facility to the Immigration Authority’s crassness and shirking of responsibility,” says MK Michal Rosin (Meretz), head of the Knesset’s Committee on Foreign Workers.

With no health insurance, Abed al-Karim, 37, is now a patient in Soroka Hospital in Be’er Sheva waiting for someone to finance his care. Al-Karim came to Israel some six years ago, leaving his family in a refugee camp in the Darfur region of western Sudan. He lived in Hadera and worked as a gardener for the municipality. Four months ago he was told to pack his bags and report to the Holot detention center for an indefinite period. He stayed more than two months in the facility, sharing a small room, toilet and shower with nine other asylum seekers.

Like everyone else, he was required to report for registration three times a day and stay in the facility from 10 P.M. to 6 A.M. He was forbidden to work.

Unseen and unheard

On Thursday four weeks ago, al-Karim, accompanied by a friend, went to the clinic at the detention center complaining of a sore throat and loss of the ability to speak.

Under the agreement between the Health Ministry and Bikurofe, the private company operating the clinic at the detention center, no doctor is on duty at Holot over the weekend. From Thursday afternoon to Sunday morning, only a paramedic is available.

The paramedic consulted with the doctor on call on the phone and gave al-Karim pills. On Saturday al-Karim returned to the clinic with the same complaints. The paramedic talked to the doctor again and told him to come back the next morning. The next morning the doctor examined him, injected him with a muscle relaxant and told him to return at midday. When he returned, he was sent to Soroka Hospital on a bus, three days after his first complaint.

At the hospital, al-Karim was given a CT examination, and after being diagnosed as having suffered a stroke, he was hospitalized in the neurological ward.

Two and a half weeks later, the hospital informed the Population and Immigration Authority, Prison Service and Bikurofe that al-Karim was being discharged and required medical treatment and rehabilitation to regain his speech.

Bikurofe told the authority and Health Ministry it would provide the medical care and rehabilitation, and even organized trips for the patient from Holot to a speech therapist in Be’er Sheva twice a week.

But al-Karim’s ride from the hospital back to Holot, which was scheduled for last Thursday, was cancelled at the last moment. On Sunday, the hospital was informed that al-Karim’s incarceration order in Holot had been revoked and he must go to the Population and Immigration Authority to receive a temporary visa.

Al-Karim, who had quit his job and left his apartment when he was summoned to Holot, has nowhere to stay. Unable to speak and in need of medical treatment, he cannot work.

Fearing for his health, the hospital did not release him and asked the Health Ministry for help. The ministry said its budget was intended for Holot detainees only. The ministry told the hospital not to release al-Karim in the meantime.

About a month after the stroke, al-Karim is still in hospital, waiting for funding for the rehabilitation he needs.

A paralyzing problem

“This story demonstrates why a prison is not a solution for the asylum seekers community, which needs continuous access to health and welfare services,” says Elisheva Milikovsky, of Physicians for Human Rights.

“Israel is abandoning the asylum seekers with no medical care, no rehabilitation services and no ability to make a living,” she says.

MK Rosin is trying to help al-Karim She says that since the Holot center opened, she has received “countless reports of failures, uncaring and ineffectiveness in treating asylum seekers," adding, "The government locked up thousands of people in the facility before it was ready to take care of them properly.”

In a report released three weeks ago, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira slammed Israel’s treatment of asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan. He said the state fails to provide the asylum seekers’ basic needs and adequate medical services. As a result, the condition of some deteriorates to such an extent that they need urgent medical treatment, he said.

Soroka Medical Center said its repeated requests to the relevant bodies to arrange a rehabilitation and treatment facility for al-Karim remain unanswered.

The Health Ministry commented that over the weekend a paramedic is available at the clinic. Al-Karim “was examined twice over the weekend and his treatment was reasonable in the circumstances. Since he was a young man the suspicion of a stroke did not arise,” the ministry said.

The ministry said it told the hospital “not to release al-Karim until a suitable solution was found. The ministry is in contact with the relevant officials dealing with his case and will determine the continued medical treatment accordingly.”

The Population and Immigration Authority said, "[Our representatives] check every case individually and when we find humanitarian reasons that justify release — we take it into consideration and release.”

More than 2,400 asylum seekers are currently being held at Holot. The authority is determined to fill the detention center to its capacity of 3,300 detainees and even expand it.

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