Israel Holding Pregnant Migrant Worker in Isolation for Months, Defying UN Guidelines

Jossephine Kwabiwaa was held in isolation after she refused to be tested for tuberculosis, despite her expressing concern that radiation could affect her pregnancy

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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Jossephine Kwabiwaa
Jossephine Kwabiwaa
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

A heavily pregnant migrant worker from Ghana has been held in isolation for four months by the Israel Prison Service, despite the World Medical Association and the United Nations saying that holding pregnant women in isolation could severely hurt their physical and mental health and potentially harm the fetus.

The prison service put Jossephine Kwabiwaa, 32, in isolation because she refused to be tested for tuberculosis, which prisoners who come from African nations are generally required to do. Kwabiwaa says she is afraid of taking the tests, which include X-rays, out of concern that radiation could affect her pregnancy.

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Over the past two weeks, the prison service has tried to fly Kwabiwaa back to Ghana against her will. In both cases, she was returned to Givon Prison in Israel in the middle of the night as the airline, which was told of her condition by Physicians for Human Rights Israel, refused to put her on board. The organization has been sharply critical of the prison service for her jailing.

Givon Prison, Israel. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Based on her lawyer’s visits and phone conversations with her, Kwabiwaa is highly depressed, says she cannot continue to tolerate her conditions and is afraid that she cannot withstand another attempt to fly her out of the country.

She also says that the prison service is demanding that she pay for examinations and supplements for pregnant women, like folic acid and iron. According to Kwabiwaa, the cost of some of her pregnancy checks will be taken out of funds deposited for her to purchase items at the prison canteen.

“There is a concern that for four months, no one on the Israel Prison Service’s medical staff who met Jossephine alerted anyone about the harm that could be caused to her as a result of her isolation or demand that it end,” says Anat Lidvin, director of the Physicians for Human Rights’ Department for Prisoners.

“This case shows how the Israel Prison Service violates the rights of prisoners and endangers their health and lives. Government authorities must work to transfer the responsibility of medical care for prisoners from the Israel Prison Service to a body that knows medicine and that can provide treatment in line with accepted standards in the public health system in Israel, while maintaining the rules of ethical medicine,” added Lidvin.

According to Physicians for Human Rights, studies conducted throughout the world show that being held in isolation causes severe mental distress. While people react to isolation in different ways, it has been shown to cause psychological, and sometimes physiological, damage to some prisoners. Problems can include insomnia, confusion, hallucinations, and exacerbation of preexisting medical conditions.

Because of the potentially severe effects, the World Medical Association says solitary confinement should be used only in extreme circumstances and that holding someone in isolation for more than 15 days constitutes misuse and could be a form of torture and abuse – and as such, it should be banned. The association also says there are groups that are particularly vulnerable to the effects – including pregnant women – and that the practice should be totally banned in those cases.

The Israel Prison Service said Kwabiwaa had been given all required medical examinations during her detention, including monitoring of her pregnancy. “The detainee was not required to pay for the examinations, except for purchasing nutritional supplements and tests performed at a private clinic for foreign workers that are not part of services and medications provided by the HMOs,” the prison service said.

“The prison provided the detainee with clothes adjusted for her pregnancy. Furthermore, requests from the detainee regarding clothes or equipment did not reach the prison’s management; if such requests did arrive, it would have been possible to try and provide them. Holding her separately is the product of her refusal to cooperate with prison procedures for entering a regular wing,” said the prison service.

The prison service added it had turned to the Justice Ministry’s Immigration Detention Review Tribunal and the Immigration Authority to find a solution, “but two attempts to fly her out did not succeed.”



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