Asylum seekers and Israel’s ‘deposit law’
By ZOE GUTZEIT
On May 1, 2017, the “deposit law” – the recent amendment to the Anti-Infiltration Law – came into effect, requiring asylum seekers to allocate 20% of their salaries to a designated fund whose contents will be returned to them only upon their departure from Israel.
Additionally, employers are required to set aside 16% of employee wages, which has the added effect of rendering asylum seekers less attractive candidates for employment.
This amendment to the Anti-Infiltration Law is clearly intended to intensify the existing harsh policies toward 40,000 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers living in Israel. Indeed, these asylum seekers receive protection against deportation in recognition of the dangers that threaten their lives in their countries of origin.
However, at the same time, they are denied basic human and social rights. The new amendment is yet another cruel and wellplanned step that attempts to harass and abuse asylum seekers, and make their lives miserable so that they will leave Israel “voluntarily.”
For asylum seekers who suffer from health problems, this amendment is particularly severe. Asylum seekers are not included under Israel’s National Health Insurance Act and have very limited access to public health care services. Asylum seekers who are employed may receive coverage from private health insurance companies, but this coverage is extremely limited and terminates once the person becomes too ill to work. It is often the case that asylum seekers rely on non-profit institutions to receive primary health care services. Those who are prohibited from access to public health services and have no way of receiving treatment elsewhere remain, to this day, in pain and suffering and without proper medical treatment, susceptible to dangerous deterioration of their health.
Those who, until recently, have succeeded with great difficulty to finance treatments such as medications and necessary tests will soon experience a one-fifth reduction in their wages. This reduction will directly affect their living conditions including food security and their ability to continue supporting themselves and their families.
Those who, until recently, have succeeded with great difficulty to acquire health insurance for their children will be forced to deal with impossible choices: food or medicine; continued child insurance payments or rent payment? For us at Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHRI), a difficult hour lies ahead: with the passage of the new amendment, it will be a challenge for the volunteer doctors in our Open Clinic to provide proper medical care to our patients and to make referrals knowing that the patient will likely not be able to pay for out-ofpocket expenses.
Although the Open Clinic receives 6,000 patient visits per year, PHRI is unable to cover all of their medical needs. PHRI must refer patients to other facilities for consultations, exams, treatments and procedures – often at the cost of the patient – as a prerequisite for receiving treatment.
Whereas until recently some of PHRI’s patients were able to afford these costs, with the new law in effect, most will suddenly find themselves deprived of adequate funds for such tests, treatments and medications, let alone for more expensive yet necessary treatments.
The appropriate solution takes the form of comprehensive, state-subsidized insurance for asylum seekers. At the same time that the Interior Ministry is acting decisively to deport asylum seekers and to prevent others from entering the State of Israel, the Health Ministry has the power and responsibility to improve the situation for those remaining here. If the State of Israel is seeking to prevent the entry of additional asylum seekers into its territory – a practice whose morality deserves separate examination in light of contemporary world events – it should, at the same time, cease the denial of basic human rights to those who already reside in Israel.
Essential to the realization of these basic human rights is the right to health.
Thus, precisely at this moment, as the new amendment to the Anti-Infiltration Law comes into effect, the Health Ministry should formulate sustainable policy for the asylum seeker community by providing full and equal access to health services.
Such policy would have the impact of alleviating distress and removing some of the difficulties facing asylum seekers in their daily lives.
The writer is director of the Migrants and Refugees department at Physicians for Human Rights-Israel.