Ill Asylum Seeker Left on Streets of Tel Aviv as Ministries Dispute Responsibility

Health and social affairs ministries promise treatment for 36-year-old Eritrean, but he is still waiting for a solution.

An asylum seeker at Tel Aviv's Levinksy Park (illustrative).
Oren Ziv

An Eritrean asylum seeker and HIV carrier was left on the streets of Tel Aviv without medical care while two ministries argued about who was responsible for him.

The man, 36, had been treated at the city’s Ichilov Hospital for six months. But he was released about a week ago without arrangements being made for appropriate rehabilitative care.

Since he lacks any legal status in Israel, he is not covered by health insurance, while rehab programs require financial guarantees.

Israel rejects most asylum requests from Eritreans and Sudanese, and has jailed thousands in a bid to try and persuade them to leave. However, it avoids deporting them back to their countries of origin where their lives would be endangered. As a result, thousands of migrants live in the country on limited or no visas.

After spending two days on the street, the Eritrean finally got help from volunteers. Human rights workers said he was picked up after spending a night in a Tel Aviv municipality attic space for the homeless. Private individuals then put him up in a hostel, but the room is not suited to his condition.

ASSAF, an organization that helps refugees and asylum seekers, and Physicians for Human Rights, warn that the man may soon wind up back on the street unless an adequate solution is found.

“We took him off the street and brought him to our place last Wednesday night,” said social worker Tali Ehrental, director of psycho-social services at ASSAF.

“The guy was wearing a hospital shirt and hadn’t eaten,” she said, adding, “He has slept on the street – his medical and mental condition is poor.

“There’s a game of ping-pong between the social affairs and health ministries, with the bottom line that both deny any responsibility for their jobs,” Ehrental said.

In a May 2014 report, the state comptroller sharply criticized the state for failing to supply basic health services to asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan.

“In the absence of satisfactory medical service to the community, the needs of some foreigners who cannot be deported deteriorate to emergency conditions,” the report noted.

“There is a major fear that permitting foreigners who may not be deported only limited access to medical care, when they suffer from chronic disease or mental illness, is inconsistent with” the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty, it added.

Ichilov Hospital said the asylum seeker was treated there for 170 days, 120 of which were without any medical justification, and that it tried to find a more appropriate setting for him.

The Social Affairs Ministry said a plan to provide the man with rehabilitation treatment had been approved. The Health Ministry confirmed this, but said there were not appropriate guarantees for the follow-up care that was seen as essential.