More Than One-third of Elderly Immigrants in Israel Living in Poverty, Knesset Report Finds

Among the reasons for their poverty is the absence of pension rights in Israel and their inability to obtain support from their countries of origin, the report says.

An elderly Israeli crossing the road. There was a 50-percent increase last year in the number of golden-agers killed in road accidents, according to new reports.
Ilan Assayag

More than a third of elderly immigrants to Israel are living under the poverty line, according to a report by the Knesset Research and Information Center. This is considered a high proportion even relative to other “weak” population groups. The report was compiled ahead of a discussion by the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs on Tuesday about how the Israeli authorities handle elderly immigrants.

Among the reasons for their poverty is the absence of pension rights in Israel and their inability to obtain support from their countries of origin, the report says.

According to the study, the poverty rate among the elderly population who moved to Israel from 1989 onwards is 36.6 percent, while among total immigrant families the poverty rate is 18.5 percent. Among all the elderly in Israel, the poverty rate is 22 percent.

From 1989 to 2015, about 200,000 elderly immigrants came to Israel, constituting 17 percent of all immigrants. In 2015 alone, about 4,000 elderly immigrants aged 65 or more arrived.

Elderly immigrants moving to Israel may suffer from health and language problems, and difficulty handling bureaucracy they’re not familiar with, but their problems are exacerbated by either lacking pension rights in Israel altogether or receiving too-small stipends; and often they cannot exploit whatever pension rights they accrued in their countries of origin.

The responsibility for dealing with immigrants who have reached retirement age is shared by the immigrant absorption, social affairs and senior citizen affairs ministries – but there is no designated budget for it specifically. In most cases, the government does not prepare finance plans to help elderly immigrants, and when it does the plans fall through.

Care for the elderly immigrants winds up in the hands of local governments, which often rely on donations, the report states. “Donations” may range from food vouchers to heaters to hot meals to help obtaining dentures and medicines.

In any case, the various bodies in charge of handling elderly immigrants do not always coordinate their activities, the report states, and in some cases they duplicate efforts.

The chairman of the Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee, Avraham Nagosa (Likud), said he is working on transferring all handling of elderly immigrants to the Immigrant Absorption Ministry so they stop falling between the cracks. “We discovered that a high proportion of them do not exploit their rights under law,” Nagosa told Haaretz. “I demand that the Absorption Ministry take over the handling and translate their rights for them into all languages.”