No where to turn? (Illustration)
Photo: Liron Milshtein

Immigrant legal aid forced to downsize

Financial crisis compels Israel Religious Action Center to cut legal staff from 11 to four. 'The State has to help us. This isn't the time for us to be unable to help the public,' says department head

R. has been working as an attorney with the legal aid department at the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) for about a year, but starting Tuesday she will be unemployed.


Her dismissal did not come as a surprise – in the past two months she had to endure a pay cut and her full time position became a part time one. The financial crisis finally got the better of the IRAC and she was let go.


R. knows that finding employment in the privet sector will not be simple, as private firms are not exactly rushing to higher ex-social groups' employees.


"I was adamant to so something that corresponded with my values. I think about all the people I won't be able to help now. I'm not just a lawyer, I speak Russian and I promised people I'd be there for them. The fact that I can't keep my word bothers me a lot. The third sector in crashing and the State has to do something," she said.


Lea (alias), a Georgian citizen, has been experiencing the effects of the IRAC's troubles first hand: She came to Israel a few short years ago, after marrying an Israeli. The marriage, however, soon turned sour, as the man began physically abusing her.


Alone in a strange country, with a baby and with no means of support, she asked her mother to come to Israel and help her. Lea, however, is not an Israeli citizen, and is living in Israel on a permanent residency status. Her visa will expire soon, and so will her mother's tourist visa.


Lea said she is willing to go back to Georgia, but her estranged husband refuses to let her take their daughter with her. "I don’t know what to do. I can't stay and I can't leave. I've appealed to the court but nothing has come of it. Soon, my mother will have to go back and I don't know what I'm going to do."


'Government must offer assistance'

The legal assistance offered by the IRAC was Lea's last hope, but with the financial crisis taking its toll and making the center cut its legal staff by over 50%, there is no one to help her.


Attorney Reut Michaeli, who heads the IRAC's legal aid department, told Ynet her office handles some 6,000 cases a year; the majority of which concern arranging residency status for the immigrants and their families.


Until august of 2007, the IRAC's legal aid department, which has been operating for 17 years, had 11 staff members – five lawyers, an intern and people proficient in various languages. Once downsized, the department has only four employees, and according to Michaeli, they can now take on only a third of the cases.


"I can't help some of the people that call us, I have to choose the cases we take," she said. "I think the government has to help the social organization. This isn't the time for us to be unable to help the public."


The Ministry of Interior offered the following comment on Lea's case: "The Ministry of Interior has a specific protocol for cases in which the citizenship process is halted due to spousal abuse. As for the case in question, the ministry is looking into it."


פרסום ראשון: 12.02.08, 10:48
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