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Ethiopian women claim Israel forced them to use birth control before letting them immigrate

Women who immigrated from Ethiopia eight years ago say they were told they would not be allowed into Israel unless they agreed to be injected with the long-acting birth control drug Depo Provera, according to an investigative report aired yesterday on the Israel Educational Television program “Vacuum.”

The women say that while waiting in transit camps in Ethiopia prior to immigration they were placed in family planning workshops where they were coaxed into agreeing to the injection – a charge denied by both the Joint Distribution Committe, which ran the clinics, and the Health Ministry.

“We said we won’t have the shot. They told us, if you don’t you won’t go to Israel And also you won’t be allowed into the Joint (American Joint Distribution Committee) office, you won’t get aid or medical care. We were afraid… We didn’t have a choice. Without them and their aid we couldn’t leave there. So we accepted the injection. It was only with their permission that we were allowed to leave,”

recounted Emawayish, who immigrated from Ethiopia eight years ago. She was one of 35 women, whose stories were recorded by Sebba Reuven, that relate how they were coaxed and threatened into agreeing to receive the injectable birth control drug.

The birth rate among Israel’s Ethiopian immigrant population has dropped nearly 20 percent in 10 years.

According to the report, the women were given the Depo Provera injections in the family planning workshops in transit camps, a practice that continued once they reached Israel. The women who were interviewed for the investigation reported that they were told at the transit camps that having many children would make their lives more difficult in Ethiopia and in Israel, and even that they would be barred from coming to Israel if they refused.

The Joint said in a response to “Vacuum” that its family planning workshops are among the services it provides to immigrants, who learn about spacing out their children’s birth, “but we do not advise them to have small families. It is a matter of personal choice, but we tell them it is possible. The claims by the women according to which ‘refusal to have the injection will bar them from medical care [and] economic aid and threaten their chances to immigrate to Israel are nonsense. The medical team does not intervene directly or indirectly in economic aid and the Joint is not involved in the aliyah procedures. With regard to the use of Depo Provera, studies indicate that is the most popular form of birth control among women in Ethiopia,” the Joint said.

In its response to “Vacuum,” the Health Ministry said it did not “recommend or try to encourage the use of Depo Provera, and that if these injections were used it was against our position. The Health Ministry provides individual family counseling in the framework of its well baby clincs and this advice is also provided by the physicians of the health maintenance organizations.”

The Jewish Agency, which is responsible for Jewish immigration from abroad, said in response that it takes a harsh view of any effort to interfere in the family planning processes of Ethiopian immigrants, adding that “while the JA has never held family planning workshops for this group in Ethiopia or at immigrant absorption centers in Israel, the immigrant transit camp in Gondar, as the investigation noted, was previously operated by other agencies.”

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