Absorption centers are causing a dependency for Ethiopian olim, Yesh Atid MK Shimon Solomon (Yesh Atid) asserted on Monday. He was speaking at the Knesset Committee on Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs which convened to debate the problem facing Ethiopian olim living in absorption centers for extended periods of time.
Solomon, who brought the matter to the committee, said it was important to listen to the discussion to better understand the real situation on the ground.
“Nobody will dispute the assertion that olim do not need to be there for longer than 2 years,” said Solomon.
Oded Forrer, director-general of the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, and Haviv Katzav, the ministry’s senior deputy director- general for housing, provided background and statistics on the problem.
There are 17 absorption centers operating in Israel, with some 7,000 olim, including families, singles, and the elderly.
Absorption centers for Ethiopian olim have one mission: to give olim the knowledge and ability to leave the centers and become independent.
The average process of acclimation should take roughly 24 months for the olim to find employment and housing.
Unfortunately, there are a great number of olim who continue to live in the absorption centers for as many as 5 and even 10 years.
According to Forrer and Katzav, families living in the absorption centers receive a grant between NIS 282,000 and NIS 700,000 toward buying an apartment. Furthermore, elderly olim have the option to either join their families and receive a grant of NIS 84,000 as well as a NIS 13,000 loan toward housing, or to receive preference toward renting assisted-living apartments. A majority of the families entering Israel are able, following the 2-year period, to acclimate into society.
“The results speak for themselves. We see students, we see soldiers and we even see members of Knesset,” said Katzav.
The problem arises with single olim, aged 18 to 55, many of whom live in absorption centers for extended periods of time. Upon leaving the absorption centers, individuals are offered a NIS 1,500 grant for a span of 5 years for assistance with rent and a loan of up to NIS 281,000. Unfortunately, a great number of individuals, despite the assistance offered, simply continue to live in the absorption centers and do not acclimate into society.
“There are other groups of olim who do not receive any grants and they are able to acclimate, so why is this a problem specifically for Ethiopian olim?” asked committee chairman MK Yoel Razbozov (Yesh Atid).
“I have lived in an absorption center in Mevaseret Zion for 10 years. It saddens me and shames me that I am still living there,” said Sapano Reta, an Ethiopian oleh.
According to Reta, there are about 1,100 olim in the Mevaseret Zion absorption center, and roughly 200 singles currently living there.
Razbozov posed a question to Reta: Why is a young and health man unable to find work and use the grant to rent an apartment and leave the absorption center? “The NIS 1,500 grant is a cosmetic solution,” answered Reta. “Most of my friends work in cleaning and make around NIS 4,000. Can you really find an apartment for NIS 3,000 and still manage to live in Israel?” Furthermore, he answered that he would prefer to receive the money in one payment toward buying an apartment.
“The solution is not for the State of Israel to buy apartments for everyone. Our solution is to grant olim the tools and knowledge to acclimate into Israeli society so that in time they can buy their own apartments,” said Forrer.
Razbozov concluded the meeting by calling upon interministerial cooperation to address the problem and said the committee would reconvene in three months to follow up on any progress.