The court heard a petition against the minister of labor, social affairs and social services, filed by the ASSAF aid organization for refugees and asylum seekers. The petition called for the granting of welfare services to asylum seekers, who currently do not receive them other than in extreme cases where lives are at risk. A panel including Justices Esther Hayut (court president), , Daphne Barak-Erez and Uzi Fogelman was critical of the state’s delay in formulating and publishing a formal policy on the matter.
As reported in Haaretz on Sunday, an inter-ministerial task force, headed by the director of the Population, Immigration and Border Authority, Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, recommended last July that welfare agencies be partially opened to asylum seekers. However, these recommendations have not been ratified yet by the relevant ministers.
“Isn’t it time to decide?” asked Hayut, addressing attorney Dan Rosenberg, representing the state, after he said the report had been handed in five months ago. The recommendations also called for allocating 26 million shekels ($7 million) in welfare services to asylum seekers, but a dispute between government ministries is preventing final approval of the program.
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Social Services Minister Haim Katz is demanding that if funds allocated to asylum seekers run out, the treasury will provide additional funds, not from his budget. Another unresolved issue is whether the Health Ministry will fund treatment for asylum seekers who need social work help, but also medical assistance.
The court ordered the state to update it within 90 days on the government ministries’ decision about the recommendations. The court also decided that the ASSAF organization will add the Union of Local Authorities as respondents to its petition, since welfare agencies providing service are under the jurisdiction of local authorities.
Michal Pinchuk, the executive director of Assaf, said after the court hearing that “it is regrettable that the court cooperated with foot-dragging by the government ministries, delaying the approval of the recommendations made by the inter-ministerial task force, headed by Mor-Yosef. I hope that after 90 days we’ll hear that the welfare agencies are open to needy asylum seekers, who are clamoring for support and assistance.”
“We’re almost on the home stretch,” said attorney Rosenberg. “There are recommendations by a professional team, all its members signed them. These will go before the minister of social affairs, who’s started looking into the issue. At the same time, one should realistically address the differences between the recommendations and ministry policies.”
The hearing included a discussion of the recommendations to open welfare agencies to asylum seekers who are victims of violence, to people with disabilities or who are homeless, or deprived for other reasons, but not to other asylum seekers. The justices expressed their displeasure over the delays dogging the approval of these recommendations.
The petition notes that the welfare law stipulates that the state must offer welfare services to anyone in need. This duty is not contingent on citizenship or residence status. In contravention of the law, welfare agencies are closed to needy asylum seekers, other than in exceptional cases. “This decision was an administrative one, taken by the ministry without authority, employing discrimination which is in opposition to the state’s basic laws and to ethical codes guiding social workers” said Assaf in its petition.
“Asylum seekers have been legally in Israel for years, protected from deportation by law, but they remain in a state of undetermined status, with no basic rights,” the petition continued. “The majority manages to survive in Israel despite harsh traumas they’ve experienced and despite Israel’s harsh treatment, but some of them need support. These include battered women and people who were held in camps on their way to Israel, where they were raped and tortured. There are also people with disabilities who find it hard to make a living or find a roof over their heads. They suffer from hunger. The needs of these vulnerable groups are not being met, preventing them from living with basic dignity” says the petition.
In December 2016, the NGO filed a petition against the minister of social services, asking that welfare services be given to asylum seekers. In response, the state announced the setting up of the inter-ministerial task force, which was charged with determining whether the state should re-evaluate its stand regarding social services to asylum seekers.