The Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs held a discussion on the difficulties for Holocaust refugees in Israel on Monday, one day before International Human Rights Day.

Holocaust refugees from the former Soviet Union who participated in the panel discussion, speaking mostly in Russian, laid out their problems – primarily their inability to afford drugs, medical tests, rent and food.

“Why is the Jewish state that we love, where our bones will be buried, ashamed to recognize us as refugees and help us?” Holocaust refugee Yafim Kipnis asked.

Committee Chairman MK Yoel Razbozov (Yesh Atid) told the panel that due to a government decision in 2011, Holocaust refugees are no longer entitled to receive reimbursement for medications from the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel, to which the Finance Ministry has allocated NIS 300 million.

“A large number of fund recipients are from the former Soviet Union, and about 40 percent of them live off of subsistence payments. If the government would return the ability for the fund to reimburse Holocaust refugees for medications, it would greatly benefit them,” foundation representative Yisraella Schwartzman said.

Since the 2011 decision, a clear distinction has been made between Holocaust survivors who receive pensions and continue to receive a 50-60 percent discount on medications through the health funds and Holocaust refugees who are no longer eligible for discounts.

Today, Holocaust refugees are entitled to a refund for a sum of up to NIS 4,000 to cover costs of medical equipment for two years. In order to receive the reimbursement they must correctly fill out forms and provide receipts, a lengthy and often confusing bureaucratic process.

“This is a welcome change,” Finance Ministry representative Guy Haramati said, to overwhelming grunts of disapproval from the Holocaust refugees in the room. Haramati explained that over the past year and a half, the Finance Ministry had made key decisions to improve the overall situation by providing greater allocation of hours of care that Holocaust refugees receive and an increase in grants for assistance with medical equipment.

“These are two significant decisions worth NIS 60 million for Holocaust refugees,” Haramati said. “This is an ongoing process that is continually being tested. There is awareness and it is receiving attention, but there are budgetary limitations.”

MK Razbozov promised that the committee would work with the Finance Ministry to solve the problem of indemnification for drugs and would help ease bureaucratic red tape for Holocaust refugees and survivors, though he said he could not give a deadline for these changes.

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