Israel Is Failing Ukrainian Refugees

13.08.23, Haaretz Editorial, Haaretz



The state’s treatment of refugees from the war in Ukraine, and of refugees in general, is a disgrace. Two months after the war began, Israel provided minimal medical services to Ukrainian refugees up to age 60, and full coverage to 3,400 refugees aged 60 and up.

Last week, with no advance warning, medical coverage ended for about 14,000 refugees from Ukraine living in Israel. The official reason: The Finance Ministry withheld funding, and various government ministries blame each other for failing to request the money, and in a timely manner. The real reason: bureaucratic apathy and a government that is doing nothing but advancing laws for its own benefit.

Officials say that anyone who needs emergency care will receive it, like anyone without official status in Israel, but refugees requiring post-injury rehabilitation or suffering from serious illness will have to wait until the government ministries stop quarreling and find the money to restore services. In the meantime, the interruption of care is adversely affecting the most seriously ill refugees.

In April, the director general of the Prime Minister’s Office requested the long-term extension of visas for refugees, which at that time had to be renewed each month, saying the social and medical benefits would continue through the end of the year. However, the already meager aid was reduced over time and focused mainly on medical services and health insurance for those who need it.

The Health Ministry denied responsibility and the visas were not extended. Finance Ministry officials described the conduct of the health and welfare ministries toward the refugees as “apathy.” The Welfare Ministry called on the treasury to release the money.

Refugees have neither a lobby nor political power, and their situation could lead to a humanitarian crisis. In the wake of reports in Haaretz, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich vowed that “no one will be left without health insurance.”

It must be hoped that the government will at least do that little bit. Israel’s poor reputation precedes it. According to a Ukrainian source, Kyiv is considering canceling its visa exemption agreement with Jerusalem due to an increase in the number of Ukrainian citizens who are refused entry to Israel.
The Kyiv Post reported that Ukraine is seeking to remove Israel from the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, also known as the Ramstein Group, an alliance of 54 countries that supports Ukraine militarily and convenes monthly. The Post quoted Ukrainian sources who criticize Israel harshly and without precedent, accusing it of being pro-Russian. Israel’s treatment of Ukraine and its citizens since the beginning of the war leaves no room for doubt: Israel is on the wrong side of history.

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