Asylum Seekers and Refugees

Outreach and training among migrants

Who are asylum seekers?

Asylum seekers are individuals who fled their country to another country and request protection from the other country. Refugees are individuals who escaped from their country following war or persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, belonging to a certain social movement, political opinion, gender or sexual orientation, and have been recognized as refugees in the sanctuary country. If they are not eligible for refugee status – they are deported. Until their application for sanctuary has been processed the refugees have “asylum seeker” status. Thirty-nine asylum seekers were granted refugee status in Israel in the years 2008-2012.

Who are the asylum seekers in Israel?

There were about 50,000 migrants from Africa in Israel in 2014, most of them from Eritrea (66%) and Sudan (25%). The remaining migrants came from various African countries such as Ethiopia, Nigeria and Congo, and in the single percentages from East Asia. Asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan have group protection and therefore the State of Israel cannot deport asylum seekers from these countries back to their countries of origin. Furthermore, temporary residency status was granted to asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan upon their entry into Israel. The temporary residence visa must be renewed, every one to three months, as long as the individual continues to reside in Israel.

The Ministry of Health estimates that about 600 HIV carriers without legal status live in Israel in recent years, and this number only represents diagnosed cases

Asylum seekers as an at-risk population for HIV/AIDS

As of 2016, carriers who are not residents of Israel (most of them migrants from Africa) comprise the second largest at-risk population group in Israel for HIV diagnosis. It is difficult to ascertain the exact number of carriers in Israel without legal status. The reasons are as follows:

A.    Individuals living with HIV who lack legal status and are not entitled to medical insurance were not tracked until recently.

B.    Since the amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law and the opening of the Holot facility, the number of those leaving Israel voluntarily has risen, making it difficult to track these individuals.

C.    Owing to lack of awareness, the percentage of those getting checked is relatively low (5% compared to 30% in Israeli society). According to a rough estimate, about 10% of the carriers without legal status were detected through tests initiated by the clinic for sexually transmitted diseases, while the absolute majority discovered that that they were carriers of the virus, or have AIDS in an advanced state, through tests conducted in the hospital following hospitalization.

The number of diagnoses of new HIV carriers among individuals without legal status from African countries stood at about 150 cases a year in the years 2010-2013, while the number of those entering Israel has decreased annually (43 migrants from Africa entered Israel in 2013, due to the border fence built in 2012). This may indicate that a considerable percentage of asylum seekers have not been diagnosed yet due to lack of awareness, living conditions and difficulty adapting to Israel, as well as social and economic difficulties – highlighting the need for preventive activities in the field.

What are the activities of the migrant and asylum seeker department?

1.     The department conducts education and information workshops about HIV/AIDS – providing information about testing and treatment options in Israel, general information about the HIV virus and about living with HIV/AIDS, how HIV is contracted and how to prevent infection, types of tests and their importance, medication treatment for HIV and the possibility of receiving this treatment in Israel, and practicing safe sex. The workshops are culturally adapted and are conducted in English, Tigrinya or Arabic depending on the target population. The workshop group leaders, from the asylum seeker community, receive training for addressing HIV/AIDS issues.

2.     Distribution group and community information access representatives – representatives from the various communities that function as “agents” and disseminate information in their communities, in the aim of working in the community to provide access to information about prevention, and promoting values of health. These individuals are “field agents” of sorts of the Israel AIDS Task Force that promote HIV testing, make information accessible and refer individuals to the relevant professional entities if needed.  

The “Abu Salam” condom distribution project – on weekends, in the evening hours, information access representatives go out on the streets of south Tel Aviv, to prostitution areas and concentrations of work migrants and to cities with communities of migrants and asylum seekers - where they distribute information flyers about HIV/AIDS as well as condoms, and engage in a discourse that encourages prevention and fosters acceptance of persons living with HIV/AIDS.

The Ministry of Health estimates that about 600 HIV carriers without legal status live in Israel in recent years, and this number only represents diagnosed cases.

It is important to note that in the matter of HIV/AIDS, the Ministry of Health provides the following services for individuals without legal status or health insurance:

·          HAART medication treatment to women without legal status who are carriers, during their pregnancy and 6 months after childbirth (to prevent transmission to the baby).

·          Levinsky clinic: diagnosis and treatment of some but not all sexually transmitted diseases (e.g. not Hepatitis).

·          The national program for treating HIV carriers that are migrants and do not have health insurance, in cooperation with the Israel AIDS Task Force – a project for distributing medicines, performing tests and providing medical follow-up free of charge to the migrant and asylum seeker population in Israel.


Recent activities of the AIDS Task Force on this issue

1.The Israeli AIDS Task Force is proud to announce: approval of the request to bring condoms into the Holot facility.  

In June 2017, Supreme Court judge Elyakim Rubinstein issued his last rulings as a judge on the bench. One of the rulings pertained to a petition of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel to expand the list of items which asylum seekers at the Holot facility are allowed to bring into the facility. As part of the court deliberations on the issue, and even before the final verdict of the Supreme Court, the AIDS Task Force requested that the State also permit brining condoms into the facility. We are proud to announce that our position was accepted, and the State informed the Supreme Court that it would agree to bringing prophylactics into the facility.

To read the letter from the Ministry of Justice approving bringing condoms into the facility click here.

2. Asylum seekers living with HIV in Israel: click here to find out all the latest information in this matter