Our first major public event to start to help refugees and asylum seekers in Jerusalem realize their rights was the Conference we held at the Zippori Center on April 1. We are working on other levels as well, to advance the plight of these oft-overlooked groups in Jerusalem. One level includes working with the HMO’s that largely work with refugees and asylum seekers make their care more culturally competent to their needs.
Last month we held the first of what is turning into a series of meetings for 23 secretaries and nurses at the main branch of the Meuchedet HMO, which, because of its location downtown, and a special insurance Meuchedet has for foreigners, serves most of the refugees and asylum seekers in Jerusalem. These nurses and secretaries are the first line of communication with patients, and are the ones who first communicate with the refugees and asylum seekers. This encounter came about as a result of our close partnership with the refugee hotline in Jerusalem, and after a number of meetings with the branch management.
The workshop gave participants tools to better understand the numerous cultural gaps, information and tools regarding medical interpretation, and analysis of different situations that the participants encounter every day. In the second part of the workshop Dr. Michal Schuster, our senior consultant and facilitator for the Cultural Competency in Health Care program, presented background about the refugees and asylum seekers – where they came from in Eritrea and Sudan, the complexity of their situation in Israel, on the background of the country’s refusal to review their requests for asylum and refugee status. After the speakers, Barnahu, a social activist from Eritrea who works and lives in Jerusalem, told his story and of the difficulties he encountered in trying to obtain health services in the city. Many of the participants noted that this was the first time they had ever met a refugee or asylum seeker in person, and began to understand his perspective.
At the end of the workshop the Meuchedet staff was moved to action, and asked for another workshop for 25 more employees. They also asked to meet with the administration of the branch, to see how practical responses can be found to help refugees and asylum seekers receive health care services.