Report: 160 African migrants are HIV carriers

Report: 160 African migrants are HIV carriers

Health Ministry says it will treat uninsured migrants; transports to Holot facility resume but few asylum-seekers show

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

African asylum seekers protest outside the US embassy in Tel Aviv on January 22, 2014 (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
African asylum seekers protest outside the US embassy in Tel Aviv on January 22, 2014 (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Health Ministry announced a new policy to treat African migrants who are HIV carriers or afflicted with AIDS.

Approximately 160 Eritrean and Sudanese migrants are HIV carriers, according to a Channel 2 report on Sunday.

Those who do not have Israeli health insurance may now be eligible for free medical treatment under a new program co-sponsored by various governmental offices, AIDS clinics, and pharmaceutical companies.

The new initiative will be limited to 150 patients annually. Only asylum-seekers who are 18 or older, have resided in Israel for at least six months, and can provide official identification will be considered.

Until now, migrants have been treated by NGOs such as Physicians for Human Rights. However, many of the patients could not afford the various medical tests, which were administered only at private Israeli and cost thousands of shekels.

“As someone who has for many years been treating HIV carriers and AIDS patients, Israelis and those with no legal status, it was not easy to face the recent [patients] unable to give them the best treatment we can give and watch them suffer needlessly,” Professor Zvi Bentwich, a member of Physicians for Human Rights wrote in a statement. “I’m glad the health ministry, led by Professor Gamzo, finally answered our call in our ongoing struggle, joined this important cause, and created a framework that will guarantee healthcare.”

According to the statement, Physicians for Human Rights has been working to advance this initiative for six years.

The Israel AIDS Task Force called the program a “moral and correct decision” that is expected to save lives.

“Without getting into the immigration policies in Israel and their international obligations, it can not be that in 2014 people living in Israel will die of AIDS, when with medical treatment it can be prevented,” the Israel AIDS Task Force told Maariv.

Days after the announcement, the Israeli government resumed the transfer of migrants to detention facilities in the south, but only a third of asylum-seekers summoned on Sunday showed up.

Only 13 of some 65 migrants expected to board a bus from Tel Aviv to the Holot facility appeared, and an additional eight made their way on their own to the southern holding facilities, Haaretz reported. Other Israeli media outlets reported varying numbers.

The remaining migrants, should they fail to report to Holot, are likely to be sentenced to up to three months of incarceration in the Saharonim facility.

The move is the first of many transfers to the southern facilities, and an expected 1,020 migrants will receive notices to present themselves at Holot in the coming months.

Under the Israeli “infiltrator law,” which passed in the Knesset last month, migrants can be held in the southern detention facilities indefinitely. Once incarcerated in Holot, migrants are banned from working and must appear for roll call three times daily or face penalties.

Earlier in January, thousands of migrants took to the streets to rally against the prison-like conditions in the Holot and Saharonim facilities and to demand official asylum-seeker status. Although the migrants received international backing, Israeli officials maintained that the governmental policies did not violate international immigration legislation and would not change.

On Sunday, members of the Knesset’s Foreign Workers Committee toured the Holot facilities and provided conflicting reports on the living conditions.

“We received evidence of a shortage of food, medicine, warm clothes and other items,” left-wing Meretz MK Michal Rozin said.

However, MK Ayelet Shaked of the right-wing Jewish Home party said that the facilities provided hot food, water, education, and altogether made her “proud to be a citizen of Israel that sees to all the humanitarian needs of those held in the facilities.”

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