After Ichilov Hospital got caught last summer trying to separate African “migrants” from Israelis in its clinics and wards, a Health Ministry committee decided that an urgent care clinic should be opened to serve the African refugees. To its credit, the Health Ministry followed through. The clinic opened last week in Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station. And then Israel's immigration police used the lure of the clinic to arrest refugees the clinic serves.
Israel Opens Health Clinic For African Refugees, Then Makes Arrests Of Refugees Just Outside It
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
Ha’aretz reports that last week, Israel’s Health Ministry opened a clinic for what Israel euphemistically calls infiltrators or economic migrants but who are, by law, refugees and asylum seekers.
Israel provides no social services to speak of for these refugees, and many are forced to sleep outdoors in parks, or packed like sardines into tiny apartments with 8 to 10 refugees sometimes sharing a single small room.
Because Israel can take years to process an asylum request, asking for clarification after clarification and denying claims that objective experts on the issue say never should have been denied, most African refugees have no papers. Therefore they can’t legally work in Israel, and are often exploited by the Israelis who do illegally hire them.
They also constantly fear arrest – even when they’ve applied for asylum – and the indefinite interment that follows, because most cannot be legally deported because their country of origin is not safe enough to send them back to under international law and the treaties Israel signed but constantly tries to break.
For the most part, whatever help African refugees have received in Israel has come from volunteers and ad hoc groups of volunteers.
But after Ichilov Hospital got caught last summer trying to separate African “migrants” from Israelis in its clinics and wards, a Health Ministry committee decided that an urgent care clinic should be opened to serve the African refugees.
To its credit, the Health Ministry followed through. The clinic opened last week in Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station.
In 2003, before the “illegal foreign workers” Israel was worried about were Africans, Israel’s Population Authority issued regulations governing where its immigration police, the OZ Enforcement Unit, could and could not make arrests. Ha’aretz notes that those regulations state that no arrests should be made in healthcare facilities including hospitals and health maintenance organization clinics.
But the regulations say nothing about arrests near or even adjacent to or in front of those healthcare facilities.
So earlier this week, Israel’s immigration police spread out in the bus station near the clinic and made four arrests, sending a clear message to African refugees to stay away from the clinic, meaning these poor people will have difficulty getting healthcare anywhere.
The Health Ministry responded by blasting the immigration police for what it called its "inhumane and unworthy" policy of "ambush[ing]" African refugees.
“For the immigration police to ambush [migrants] coming to receive medical treatment or exploit the clinic to catch illegal residents is an inhumane and unworthy activity," a ministry spokesperson told Ha’aretz, noting that the ongoing immigration police patrols could stop Africn refugees from getting badly needed health care.
The Health Ministry claims it contacted the Israel Police and the Interior Ministry's Population, Immigration and Border Authority (the home agency of Israel’s immigration police) to ask that they not arrest African refugees and other undocumented foreign asylum seekers and workers near the clinic.
However, the immigration police deny they were ever informed of the clinic’s opening – which was publicized in the Israeli media anyway – or asked to refrain from making arrests near it. But now that it knows about the clinic, the population police say they will still stake out the area near it to arrest sick refugees seeking medical care.
Physicians for Human Rights was shown a video of immigration police lurking in the bus station earlier this week near the clinic and arresting African refugees. It asked the Health Ministry to intercede with the Interior Ministry to stop future arrests there and to commit to allow safe passage to and from the clinic.
"We know of a few instances in the past of migrants and refugees being arrested in the central bus station, but now that an official clinic has been opened in the station by the Health Ministry, there is an obligation not just to medically treat those lacking status but also to assure their safe access to the clinic, as an inseparable part of the conditions that must exist for them to exercise their right to health care," Physicians for Human Rights’ Shahar Shoham wrote, urging that it must be “assure[d] that the migrants and refugees can freely enter the building of the new central bus station and move freely within it to the clinics, without having to fear being arrested or stopped for inspection."
The Population Authority refused.
While agreeing that those arrests won’t happen inside the clinic itself – which will be mostly devoid of African refugees anyway now that word of the arrests has spread – they will happen near it.
“In accordance with our work procedures, there is no enforcement in health clinics, nor will there be enforcement in this instance.…[However,] a request to stop enforcement in the entire area is not realistic and is not relevant to our work routine,” an authority spokesperson reportedly said.
Israel’s Interior Minister, the man who oversees the arrests of African refugees, is Eli Yishai of the Sefardi haredi Shas party.
Shas has a video ad on its campaign website that drips with anti-African-refugee racism, and Yishai has repeatedly said that his goal is to deport all the African refugees and to make their lives in israel as hard as possible before that to deter others from coming to Israel and to try to get as many African refugees to leave ‘voluntarily’ as possible to keep Israel ‘pure’ and Jewish.
The Ministry of Health is headed by an Ashkenzi haredi, Rabbi Yaakov Litzman of the United Torah Judaism party, who shares many of Yishai’s goals but who has not been outspoken about them.