Ministries warn they can’t cope with Falash Mura influx

PMO official: Budgetary concerns were taken into account when government decided to bring immigrants over.

November 26, 2010 01:32
4 minute read.
Ethiopian Falash Mura immigrants.

Falash Mura 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

Two weeks after the government’s decision to bring the nearly 8,000 remaining Falash Mura to Israel, government ministries warned Wednesday that they did not have sufficient funds to address the needs of the anticipated wave of immigrants.

During a hearing of the Knesset’s Immigration and Absorption Committee, representatives of the Welfare and Social Services, Education and Immigrant Absorption ministries all demanded additional funding and complained that the Prime Minister’s Office had refused any budgetary amendments.

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Committee chairman Danny Danon (Likud) emphasized that the government’s decision was “brave and important,” but said he recognized that there was a gap between the activities expected of the ministries and the funding that had been allocated to them. Danon said the interministerial committee established to address the Falash Mura immigration should probe the question of the funding gap.

The 7,846 Falash Mura, or Ethiopians of Jewish descent, have been waiting in inhumane conditions, some for more than a decade, for the government to allow them to come to Israel. Most of them are waiting in camps in the northern Ethiopian city of Gondar.

Following the government decision, the state now has three months to bring an initial 700 already-approved Falash Mura to Israel, and until August to wrap up the Interior Ministry’s eligibility checks of all 7,846 people who claim they fit earlier criteria that would allow them to immigrate under a special clause in the Law of Entry.

The Falash Mura’s entire immigration now has a fouryear timetable, during which government agencies will have to respond to a wave of immigration that may well be larger than that of Operation Moses, but will not come close to Operation Solomon, the 1991 effort that brought some 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

The Health Ministry estimated that the direct cost of providing medical care for the immigrants could reach NIS 13 million per year, without taking into consideration the cost of caring for those who have AIDS. The Education Ministry estimated the cost of absorption at NIS 248m., the Welfare and Social Services Ministry has asked for an additional NIS 90m., and the Housing and Construction Ministry has requested a “significant increase” in mortgage grants to acquire housing for the immigrants.

The first 35 of the remaining Falash Mura arrived in the country on Tuesday, Hanoch Tzamir, the deputy directorgeneral of the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, told the committee members. The newest immigrants were transported directly from the airport to absorption centers. There, he said, they will be introduced to Israeli society and will be registered at both Hebrew-language and conversion ulpans.

Israel’s absorption centers can house 6,500 immigrants, but there are currently only 2,500 available spaces.

According to Tzamir, Ethiopian immigrants remain in absorption centers, on average, from one-and-a-half to two years. The grant that immigrants receive to buy housing ranges from NIS 500,000 to NIS 700,000, but Tzamir said that amount must be increased if immigrants were expected to purchase a house.

“If the grants are not increased, the immigrants will not be able to leave the absorption centers, and we will not be able to absorb other immigrants in their place,” Tzamir complained.

Dafni Moshiov, who supervises the Immigration Department in the Welfare Ministry, warned that the ministry still had serious issues to address among Ethiopian immigrants who were already in Israel. Half of the Ethiopian immigrants in Kiryat Bialik suffer from family violence, she noted as an example. Moshiov said her office needed extra funds to provide services including additional social programs for young and at-risk children and courses on basic household financial management.

During the hearing, MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima) reiterated his thanks to both Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Eli Yishai for supporting the decision to bring the Falash Mura to Israel, but warned against an attempt “by government ministries to request unnecessary budgets based upon the color of Ethiopian immigrants’ skin.”

Ehud Praver, the head of policy planning in the Prime Minister’s Office, also cast doubt on the ministries’ claims, arguing that all the budgetary concerns had been taken into consideration when the government voted to begin the mass immigration.

“This year, approximately 1,800 Falash Mura immigrated to Israel, and next year, the number is expected to range between 2,000 and 2,400,” said Praver. “This is not a significant difference, or a large gap, and the ministries need to absorb the costs through their own budgets.”

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