Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel

Israel's only mental health clinic for African asylum-seekers faces closure

Date: 26.4.18 Source: i24NEWS
'We don't have insurance, we don’t have access to private clinic and we can’t go hospital, what do we do?'

Israel’s only clinic to provide mental health services for African asylum-seekers and undocumented immigrants is expected to face closure in June, leaving thousands suffering from trauma, emotional disorders and mental health issue without access to care, Haaretz reported on Thursday.

Financed by the Health Ministry, Jaffa’s Gesher Clinic was informed that due to budgetary shortages it’s delivery of support will cease to function and that, worse still, there are no future plans to renew its activities.

Gesher’s patients residency status does not permit them access to government health services and upon the centers shut down, they will lose their ability to receive mental health care.

“We don't have health insurance, we don’t have access to a private clinic and we can’t go hospital, what do we do?” Sudanese asylum-seeker Taj Harom told i24NEWS. “The difficult policy here in Israel, the journeys we have come on and the terrible news we receive from home causes depression.”

The clinic opened in 2014 and has around 300 patients providing treatment a range of mental health problems.

According to Haaretz, 70 percent of Gesher’s patients are young men from Eritrea who, upon fleeing an oppressive dictatorship and forced military conscription, undertook the treacherous journey to Israel crossing Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. African asylum seekers who entered Israel did so before 2013, when a fence at the border with Egypt made the journey impossible.

The route itself is notorious for high levels of human trafficking, physical violence and rape. Thousands who reached Israel are survivors of Sinai torture camps and suffer from chronic post-trauma and are desperately seeking emotional support.

“The Sinai part of the journey is deadly tough, the bedouins mistreat you and blackmail you,” Ristom Haileslasie, an Eritrean refugee told i24NEWS.

“People went through hell to get here,” Harom said,” from fear of imprisonment to the fear of getting killed to the fear of arriving safely in Israel and then the fear of getting deported, people deal with a lot of difficult issues.”

Open for only nine hours a week, the underfunded and understaffed clinic has a waiting list of 200 people who have to wait up to 10 months to be seen, according to Haaretz. More than a third of those on the list include people who had been forcibly hospitalized, who are suicidal or who otherwise pose a risk to themselves and others.

The clinic’s fate has been uncertain for several months. Dr. Ido Luri, the clinic director resigned at the start of the year and a replacement is yet to be appointed, and the payment of employees salaries have also been delayed.

Dr Zoe Gutzeit, the director of the migrant and refugee program of Physicians for Human Rights, and Michal Pinchuk, the executive director of the Assaf aid organization for refugees and asylum seekers in Israel, delivered a joint letter to the Health Ministry urging a continuity of care for clinic’s current patients.

“Already in January we warned that the clinic was on the verge of collapse, but we didn’t get any real attention,” she said, Haaretz reported. Now hundreds of patients who even now are barely hanging on will be thrown out without any assurance of continuous treatment, while hundreds of others will be left without any help.”

The Health Ministry said in response that it was seeking out a solution and examining options for continuity of care “in the event the existing service at Gesher ends before the described service is in place,” according to Haaretz.

The year before, the ministry had said that there was a plan to expand mental health services for asylum-seekers and assign assistance to Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital mental health clinic as well as Be’er Yaakov. Despite the announcement, nothing was enacted by the ministry.

On Tuesday, Israel said it was cancelling all current deportation orders of African asylum seekers to so-called “third countries” after weeks of wrangling with the High Court regarding the plans legality.

“Infiltrators whose residency permits expired will have their permits extended every 60 days, in keeping with the policy that was in place before the implementation of the deportation policy,” the Attorney General’s Office said.

The fate of the 37,000 or so Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers currently residing in Israel still lies in the hands of the Israeli government.