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“No Note from the Doctor, No Visa”

Asylum-seekers often turn to us at the Hotline due to bureaucratic abuse at the hand of Ministry of Interior clerks, but we haven’t encountered such a kafkaesque story in a while.

Mahari is an Eritrean asylum-seeker who has been volunteering for two years in the Assistance Center for the Foreign Community at the Tel Aviv Municipality and has even won an award for this activism for his community. Mahari came to the Hotline’s office last week after the Ministry of Interior refused to renew his conditional release visa, the visa that is not a work visa but without which Israelis are unwilling to employ asylum-seekers due to fear of being fined.

We tried to understand why the Ministry of Interior refused to renew Mahari’s visa, and he explained: In late September we went to renew his visa without his wife who felt unwell after giving birth. Mahari worried that his wife won’t be able to handle the hours of waiting in lines outside the Immigration Authority office. Thus far, each time the couple arrives to renew their visa, every two months, they undergo invasive and humiliating interviews about their private lives to ensure that they are still a couple. Men who have families in Israel are not summoned to detention in Holot and therefore the Immigration Authority does its best to “expose” “fake” couples so it can order the man to report to 20 months of detention without trial in the Holot facility, located deep in the Negev desert. After Maharai waited in line for 13 hours, from 6 AM to 7 PM, he managed to convince the Ministry of Interior clerks to renew his visa despite having arrived alone.

Now that his visa expired, Mahari arrived with his wife and son, born in September, to renew their visas. After waiting in line for seven hours, the Immigration Authority clerk refused to renew their visas and demanded that they first bring a note from the doctor confirming the wife’s illness back in September that prevented her from submitting herself to waiting in lines for hours and undergoing a humiliating interview. Mahari’s wife did not turn to a doctor then, since like most asylum-seekers in Israel, she doesn’t have medical insurance. Mahari asked for the name of the clerk who insisted on receiving the note from the doctor, but the clerk refused to provide it and called in the guards to throw out Mahari, his wife and two-months-old son.

Mahari was despondent and desperate – he cannot support his family without the visa. He couldn’t eat or sleep after he was thrown out of the Immigration Authority office. He turned to the Hotline and our Crisis Intervention Center provided him with a letter to the Ministry of Interior. Many time, Immigration Authority clerks tear up letter we write on behalf of asylum-seekers, but this time, luckily, our letter was not ignored. A director at the Immigration Authority office in Bnei Brak ordered the renewal of Mahari’s visa.

Now Mahari and his family have two months free of worries about how to put food on the table. Until the next renewal of their visa in February 2015.