Hospitalized Asylum Seeker With AIDS at Risk of Being Returned to Israel's Streets

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South Sudanese asylum seeker K., walking down a corridor at Soroka Medical Center, Be'er Sheva.
South Sudanese asylum seeker K., in Soroka Medical Center, Be'er Sheva. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

An asylum seeker with AIDS who is currently hospitalized with pneumonia is at risk of being thrown onto the streets upon his release.

A refugee aid group and the Israel Aids Task Force have urged the Social Affairs Ministry to accept him into a ministry rehabilitation center. Although the ministry agreed, it stipulated that he must have health insurance, says Orit Marom from ASSAF – the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel.

K., 44, is homeless and was roaming the streets of Arad in southern Israel before being admitted to Soroka Medical Center, Be’er Sheva, two weeks ago. He is unable to work, has no means of support and no way of obtaining regular medication. Consequently, his condition has deteriorated from AIDS carrier to actual patient.

The national health insurance program doesn’t cover asylum seekers and K.’s medical condition means he can’t obtain private insurance, so he can’t meet the Social Affairs Ministry’s condition. But both Soroka and various government offices told Haaretz that he won’t be released from hospital until some solution is found for him.

K. entered Israel in 2007 after leaving Sudan. In 2012, he was diagnosed as an AIDS carrier and hospitalized. Since then, he has been on medication. Initially, he received the drugs from the Israel AIDS Task Force and Physicians for Human Rights, but in 2014 he was accepted into a Health Ministry program that finances AIDS drugs for about 100 migrants.

Due to his AIDS treatment and other medical problems, including asthma and leg problems, K. didn’t return to work after his 2012 hospitalization. Until 2014, he lived with and was supported by his brother, but that year the brother returned to South Sudan.

“In other countries, a person isn’t left in limbo for eight years,” said Marom. “In most countries, they decide within a short time – several months, or at most two years – if he’s a refugee or not. If he is, he receives various rights, but even those who aren’t are treated.”

Only the Interior Ministry can grant national health insurance coverage to individual asylum seekers for humanitarian reasons. The Health Ministry can extend coverage to entire population groups, but not individuals.

South Sudanese asylum seeker K., in Soroka Medical Center, Be'er Sheva.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Officials from the health and social affairs ministries met last Tuesday to discuss K.’s case. Sources involved in the talks told Haaretz that various solutions are being explored, but the leading option is referring him to a homeless shelter rather than a rehabilitation center.

Marom, however, deemed that inadequate because K.’s “physical and psychological situation requires a holistic framework,” including medical checkups, nutritional supervision and help from a social worker.

“K.’s condition has deteriorated over and over because no such framework was found for him,” she added.

The Social Affairs Ministry said it attributes importance to helping people like K., and is working with the Health Ministry to find a solution. “The position cited in your report isn’t the Social Affairs Ministry’s position,” it added. “The ministry, as noted, is doing everything possible to find a solution.”

The Health Ministry said it provides numerous free or low-cost services to people without health insurance, including the program that currently supplies K.’s medication – a program that “will be expanded significantly in the coming year.” Urgent cases are hospitalized with no demand for prior payment.

The law doesn’t permit the ministry to give K. health insurance, it added, but it is “helping the Social Affairs Ministry find a suitable solution.”

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