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Burmese Former Political Prisoner Dies in Tel Aviv

Burmese Former Political Prisoner Dies in Tel Aviv

The Burmese national was an asylum seeker living in Tel Aviv. A look at the current state of affairs in regards to asylum seekers and refugees in Israel.

31 May 2005??

On Wednesday night, 18 May 2005, H., an asylum seeker from Burma, died when he fell from a roof in downtown Tel-Aviv in what seems to have been a suicide. He was a former political prisoner and a mental patient, probably suffering from the mistreatment he endured in a Burmese prison.

Recently, H. came to Physicians for Human Rights-Israel's Open Clinic in Tel Aviv and started treatment; however, he did not share his full story or mental problem with the volunteers, GP or the psychiatrist.

A question remains: had the state of Israel offered proper protection to asylum seekers, including specialist trauma screening and treatment, could H.’s life have been saved?

Asylum seekers in Israel number, at most, a few thousand. This is a very small number compared to that of western countries or to the number of documented and undocumented migrant workers in Israel. In spite of the relatively small number and Israel's historical obligation to the refugee convention, framed as a result of World War II, the state fails to supply basic protection to asylum seekers. The procedure for examining their application does not amount to basic standards of fairness.

Asylum seekers who pass the initial screening process, are given the right to work, but no social services, no health services, and nothing in terms of social assistance.

The ones who suffer the most are of course the weakest: the sick, the old, deserted minors, people with no working ability or devoid of community ties and trauma and torture victims.

We will probably never know whether H. could have been saved had proper health protection been given by the state. Other trauma victims remain. They come to our small and insufficiently equipped clinic have a long wait for a volunteer and eventually they have to buy the sometimes costly medicines themselves, if they have the money. If they cannot afford the medicine, they simply will not have it.

Cancer and HIV/AIDS patients are also at risk. Their medical situation can deteriorate and they might die untreated while waiting for the system to decide on their case, unless they arrive at the hospital at the final, sometimes too late, stage of "immediate life endangering emergency", according to the Israeli law.

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel urges the state of Israel to stand up to its commitment and obligations to asylum seekers and refugees. These obligations are not only rooted in law but also in the moral codes that society must follow. Asylum seekers and refugees, in many cases, are amongst the most weak and vulnerable groups. The state and society have the duty to protect them.


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