In a drive to expedite what has been touted as the historic final chapter in mass aliya from Ethiopia, the government on Sunday approved an additional budget of NIS 17 million, which will speed up the entire process and also see the opening of an absorption center.

The goal is to ensure the arrival of some 2,200 new immigrants before the end of March 2014. All of those set to come here over the next two years have already been approved for aliya by the Interior Ministry. However, because of lack of living space in Israel, most continue to live in dire poverty in the northern Ethiopian city of Gondar. Many have been waiting to make aliya for more than 10 years.

Sunday’s decision follows months of pressure and criticism from members of the Ethiopian community in Israel and their supporters worldwide about the slow pace of aliya from Ethiopia, despite an announcement in February that the aliya rate would increase.

The most recent decision also follows a government declaration in November 2010 to continue the flow of aliya from Ethiopia, allowing roughly 8,000 to come to Israel within three years. To date, 6,000 Falash Mura – Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors converted to Christianity more than a century ago – have been officially approved for aliya and half of those have already arrived here, as the rest continue to wait.

While the new decision will hopefully allow some 250 Falash Mura to arrive here each month, those working with the community said they were disappointed with the government’s stalled approach to aliya from Ethiopia.

“I welcome the government’s decision, however it is only with regards to Ethiopian Jews that a quota allowing them to make aliya bit by bit, is used,” commented Dr. Avraham Neguise, executive director of South Wing to Zion. “I do not understand that now, with the opening of a new absorption center, all those who have been approved for aliya cannot come here immediately.”

Ethiopian MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima) also reacted to Sunday’s announcement with mixed emotions, pointing out that while the government can act quickly to deport illegal migrants, allowing 2,200 people who already have approval for citizenship takes nearly two years.

“It is obvious bringing Jews in distress to Israel is not a priority of this government and I just hope that this injustice will be corrected in the future,” he said.

Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar officially recognized the Falash Mura as part of the Jewish people in 2002 and they were allowed to make aliya under a special clause in the Law of Entry. The immigrants must also undergo a conversion to Judaism upon arrival in Israel.

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