A rights group accused Israel of “withholding adequate health and welfare services from Ukrainian refugees,” in a report marking a year since Russia’s invasion set off a flood of refugees fleeing the war-torn country.
The Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel (ASSAF), an Israeli nonprofit dealing with refugee rights, estimated Sunday that some 14,000 Ukrainian citizens without Jewish roots fled to Israel over the past year, in addition to 20,000 others who were in the country before the February 24, 2022, invasion. Those with Jewish roots have automatic rights to become citizens under Israel’s Law of Return.
“Both of these groups of Ukrainian citizens are currently protected from deportation to Ukraine and legally reside in Israel,” ASSAF said in its report. “Now, a full year later, some of the Israeli government’s aid to them, inadequate to begin with, is being withdrawn. The refugees’ plight is intensifying.”
Among the aid provided in the past included access to primary healthcare services at the privately-run Terem medical clinics, health insurance for those over 60, and a limited quota of food vouchers.
But, “the limited aid, given only in the first months of the war and only to those who arrived in Israel after it broke out, has dwindled,” the group said. “It clearly cannot meet the needs of refugees who have been here for a full year and whose savings are running out.”
Ukrainian refugees are restricted to finding employment only in 17 major cities. Those who arrived after September 30, 2022, can only work for 90 days.
The circumstances “increase their risk of abusive and exploitative employment, human trafficking, and prostitution as a means of survival.” A growing number of refugees, unable to work, their savings dwindling, and having used up their food vouchers are now facing food insecurity, the report said.
“Ukrainian refugees, most of whom are women, are at increased risk of human trafficking and survival prostitution,” it warned.
Arrangements for healthcare services no longer meet the refugees’ needs. While the Terem clinics provide urgent medical treatment there is also a need to treat chronic illness and special needs.
According to the report, the state only provided housing for those who were most vulnerable. Many refugees were initially hosted in the homes of Israeli citizens, but with the hosts no longer able to offer accommodation, they are seeking to rent instead. However, with only short-term residence permits and difficulty finding work, some have difficulty renting apartments.
ASSAF said it has also noticed a deterioration in the mental health of refugees and children, made worse by the “absence of frameworks to maintain a normal routine.” Many refugee children do not attend school and have no educational or social routine.
“The State of Israel must come to its senses,” ASSAF urged. “There is a need to map the current needs of those who cannot return to their homes and to give them the necessary social support services so they can live in Israel with dignity.”
There was no immediate response to the report from the government.