Israel to Provide Mental Health Evaluations for Asylum-seekers Bound for Detention Center

Many will ask to be exempt from orders sending them to Holot, an open facility in the Negev run by the Israel Prison Service

Asylum-seekers walk inside the Holot detention center, December 12, 2016.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The state will be budgeting 600,000 shekels ($171,000) to provide 2,500 psychiatric evaluations for asylum-seekers claiming that they cannot be held at the Holot detention facility in the Negev.

Most will be seeking an exemption from orders sending them to Holot, an open facility where they must be present for roll call but can leave during the day, based on their mental health.

The Health Ministry is responsible for providing medical services to those at Holot, but there has been no organized system to provide psychiatric evaluations for the residents.

This week, Dr. Idit Segal, the acting deputy director of the ministry’s medical authority, requested to bypass the required bidding process for the evaluations, saying that the only government hospital that has agreed to provide the service is the Be’er Yaakov-Nes Ziona Mental Health Center, located south of Tel Aviv.

In her request, she wrote that the responsibility for carrying out medical evaluations of asylum-seekers prior to their being sent to Holot has not yet been settled. She added the medical authority, in coordination with the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority, decided that the Health Ministry would provide the evaluations. Segal noted that a formal legal opinion states that the examinations must be provided by a government doctor, who will make a decision based on the documentation provided by the asylum-seeker.

Dr. Zoe Gutzeit, who heads the migrant and refugee program of the nonprofit Physicians for Human Rights, expressed reservations about a psychiatrist making a decision about a person’s fitness to be sent to Holot based on documentation alone, rather than through an in-person examination.

She also took exception to the assumption that residents of Holot have access to mental health care at the facility.

The Holot detention center was opened about four years ago after the High Court of Justice struck down Knesset legislation permitting extended incarceration of asylum-seekers at another Negev facility, Saharonim.

Two later amendments to the law were struck down by the court, which has limited the period of detention at Holot to a year and reduced the roll call to once a day. The court has also required that the Israel Prison Service reduce the number of people housed there from 10 in every room to six. It also ordered that the conditions at the facility be improved.

Those held at Holot are provided meals and a monthly stipend of 480 shekels. Following their release, they are not allowed to work or live in Tel Aviv or Eilat.