Eli Yishai 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
There is no widespread phenomenon of AIDS among African migrants in Israel and
only a small number of them has been identified as carriers of HIV, the UN’s
William Tall said on Thursday.
Tall, the representative in Israel of the
UN High Commission for Refugees, spoke after Interior Minister Eli Yishai
claimed that Israeli women are not reporting rapes at the hands of African
migrants, so that people won’t think they have AIDS.
Tall said that when
African migrants arrive at Israeli-run detention facilities in the South for
processing, they are tested for tuberculosis, HIV and other diseases, and that
there have only been 150 confirmed cases of HIV among the some 60,000 African
migrants and asylumseekers living in Israel.
On Thursday, Ma’ariv
an article in which Yishai said that dozens of women had been raped by
“infiltrators” in south Tel Aviv in recent months and had decided not to go to
police out of fear that people would think they had AIDS.
“Many women in
Tel Aviv are raped by foreigners and are afraid to complain so that they won’t
have to deal with the stigma of carrying AIDS,” Yishai said, adding that there
was an epidemic of infectious disease among the African migrants in
In regard to Yishai’s statements to Ma’ariv, Tall said, “The
government treats them as asylum-seekers, not through their public statements,
but through their policies by not deporting them.”
Tall added that the
UNHCR is working with the Health Ministry to secure HIV treatment for the 150 or
so cases among the Africans, but had been told that doing so would be difficult
in the current political climate.
The majority of illegal African
migrants in Israel are from Eritrea in the horn of Africa, while most of the
rest come from Sudan. Both countries have HIV prevalence rates of less than 1
percent according to UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, among
the lowest in Africa. For comparison, the small country of Swaziland in southern
Africa has an HIV prevalence of 25.9%, the highest in the
According to an article published by the Health Ministry in March,
foreign workers and African migrants have accounted for 13% of tuberculosis
cases and 17% of HIV cases in Israel over the past decade, and only 5% of
Israelis who contracted HIV since 1981 did so through sex with a
The report says the figures represent only a small minority of
the foreign population in Israel, and that the likelihood of an Israeli citizen
catching TB from a foreigner is very unlikely, in that it would require at least
eight hours of exposure to an infected person in a closed room, and even then it
wouldn’t be certain.
Therefore, the report says most TB transmissions are
from foreigner to foreigner.
The report also asserts that more often than
not those who migrate to Israel are a “selfselected population,” which is
healthier on average than the general population of the country they come from,
because they need to be healthier to deal with the stress and physical
difficulties inherent in the migration process.
Ran Cohen, executive
director of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel – which runs a free clinic in
Jaffa for migrants and other people lacking legal status in Israel – says that
out of the population of 250,000 foreigners in Israel they have only opened 180
Cohen said that most of the people they treat are suffering
from minor illnesses just like the general population, or from injuries
sustained while being trafficked and in some cases held for hostage and tortured
in the Sinai Peninsula.
“This statement by Eli Yishai hurts years of
efforts to fight the stigma of AIDS and HIV and it has returned us to the 1980s,
to the fear of people with AIDS, that is a disease that people can get in the
air or that you can deal with it, and he’s returning us to this stigma,” Cohen
Also Thursday, Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman said that
the Health Ministry wants to be compensated by the government for spending over
NIS 50 million a year in medical treatment for illegal migrants.
ceremony on Thursday in honor of two officials who are leaving the ministry,
Litzman said that this comes at the expense of low-income
“Ministry subsidization for this must be stopped,” said
Litzman, who called on the Treasury to allocate special funds if it wants to
provide medical care to the refugees. “It is a heavy burden on [public] hospital
budgets. There is no reason why Israeli citizens have to pay such a heavy
price.”Judy Siegel contributed to this report.