1,000 Social Workers Demand Israel Allow Them to Provide Service to Asylum Seekers

In a letter, social workers argued that their professional code of ethics obligates them to help anyone living in Israel ■ Asylum seekers are currently ineligible for welfare services, except in life-threatening situations

A clinic for Asylum seekers in south Tel Aviv, October 10, 2018.
Ofer Vaknin

Some 1,000 social workers signed a letter to the social affairs minister asking that they be allowed to provide services to asylum seekers.

In the letter, they argued that their professional code of ethics obligates them to help anyone living in Israel. Currently, asylum seekers aren’t eligible for any help from municipal welfare departments unless they’re in a life-threatening situation.

The letter follows last month’s murder of a 12-year-old Eritrean, Silvana Tsegai. The signatories include the heads of social work departments at colleges and universities, other faculty members and former senior officials of the Social Affairs Ministry.

>> Murder of 12-year-old girl shows human rights in Israel are only for Jews | Analysis ■ Why the murder of a 12-year-old in south Tel Aviv comes as no surprise | Analysis

Two weeks ago, Haaretz reported that an interministerial task force headed by the director of the Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority had recommended that municipal social work departments be partially opened to asylum seekers.

The recommendations, which were submitted to the interior and social affairs ministers, were drafted in response to a petition to the High Court of Justice challenging the state’s refusal to provide social services to asylum seekers.

The task force recommended that the government budget 26 million shekels ($7 million) for this purpose. But so far, disagreements between the various ministries involved have prevented the recommendations from being approved.

A separate committee, set up by the Social Affairs Ministry, also recommended providing various types of social services to particularly vulnerable asylum seekers.

The social workers’ letter urged the government to implement both committees’ recommendations and allocate the necessary funding for this purpose.

“For more than a decade, asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan have lived among us,” the letter said. “Even though they are living here legally and the state recognizes that it cannot deport them, it doesn’t give them access to welfare services.”

Currently, it continued, social services are provided only to children at risk, domestic violence victims whose lives are in danger, and victims of trafficking. “But often, intervention comes too late,” it added.

Among the signatories were the dean of Hebrew University’s school of social work, Prof. Mona Khoury-Kassabri; the head of Tel Aviv University’s school of social work, Prof. Idit Weiss-Gal; the head of Ben-Gurion University’s department of social work, Prof. Dorit Segal-Engelchin; the head of Bar-Ilan University’s school of social work, Prof. Nehami Baum; the head of the criminology department at Yezreel Valley College, Prof. Dalit Yasour-Borochowitz, who is also a social worker; and the head of the Unitaf organization, Aliza Olmert, a social worker and the wife of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.