Securing Vaccines for Asylum Seekers

18 February 2021

After a campaign by NIF grantee Physicians for Human Right Israel (PHRI), Israel has begun administering Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to refugees, asylum workers, migrant workers and other residents who are not members of Israel’s health care system and have no access to health insurance. The vaccination drive, which follows pressure from PHRI and other human rights organizations, is being conducted by Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv and the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality.

Despite the vaccination rollout for residents who have no formal legal status in Israel, many are suspicious about getting vaccinated. Refugees said that general mistrust of the authorities stemming from years of threats of detention and deportation has fueled fears that the vaccination campaign was a ruse to carry out such threats. As it became apparent that official immigration inspectors were not present at the vaccination center in Tel Aviv, more asylum seekers have turned out to be vaccinated.

Kuvram Tualda, an asylum seeker from Eritrea who was inoculated last week, said, “As was the case with COVID-19 testing, there is a lot of suspicion in the community [towards the vaccine campaign]. But ultimately this is about health and basic humanity.”

Dr. Zoe Gutzeit, the director of the migrant and refugee program at PHRI said, “This is a welcome move but it does not immunize them against continued neglect.” Dr. Gutzeit said that vaccinating the refugees and migrants is very challenging. “After abandoning and excluding this population for so many years, then it’s not so simple when you decide to do the right thing.”

Dr. Gutzeit said that if all refugees and asylum seekers and migrants who lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic had been given government subsidized health coverage, then most of the problem would have been solved.

Refugees and migrants participating in the vaccination program expressed hope that the country would soon return to normal and they could return to work. ASSAF – Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel has seen a 111% rise in requests for basic health in food, clothing and rent over the past year.

Photo Credit: Yossi Zamir