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(photo credit: AP [file])
New immigrants may soon be getting a more modern welcome from the moment they land in the country.
Currently, they must pass through the Absorption Hall in Terminal 1 of Ben-Gurion International Airport upon their arrival. Now, with the support of Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver wants to move this process to the newer and more modern Terminal 3.
In the absorption hall, immigrants receive their teudat oleh (immigrant ID), national ID number, health insurance, and the first payment from their absorption basket.
Said Landver in a written statement, "It makes no sense that a new immigrant arrives in Israel and is received in a terminal that is out-of-date and neglected, a terminal that is the complete opposite of what the immigrant should see in his first moments in Israel. The old terminal isn't suitable for the absorption of new immigrants in the 21st century."
Katz was also very positive about the project. "I believe that with our shared effort we will be able to move the absorption hall to Terminal 3, and ensure that new immigrants will receive a proper absorption from their first moment, even in the airport," he said.
He also expressed his commitment to find the necessary funds to build the new facility. It is not yet known when the new hall will be built, or how much it will cost.
Terminal 3 opened in 2004, replacing Terminal 1, the original terminal of Ben-Gurion Airport, as the main gateway to Israel. The old terminal is now used only for domestic flights, international charter flights, and government flights such those carrying groups of immigrants.
Representatives from the Transportation and Immigrant Absorption ministries, as well as the Airports Authority, acknowledged in a recent meeting that the current location of the absorption hall is problematic. They feel that it is damaging to the absorption of new immigrants in their first moments in the country, and also a problem because it necessitates moving immigrants from one terminal to another.
Michael Jankelowitz, a spokesman for the Jewish Agency, agrees that there is a need to change the current situation. "Warm welcome?" he says, referring to the current terminal. "More like pain in the ass."
He says that the current situation is "a hassle... When a group of three or four immigrants arrives, it's no problem. If it's 60, they're all put on a bus [from Terminal 3] to Terminal 1 [four kilometers away]. They all have to wait until everyone has been processed, and then go back [to Terminal 3], go through passport control and get their luggage."
He believes that the fact that the new terminal was built without an absorption hall was a major oversight. "I just don't understand how the architects of this beautiful, multimillion-dollar airport didn't think about it."
However, some feel that the location of the absorption hall is the least of the problems facing the Immigrant Absorption Ministry in its efforts to smooth the transition of new immigrants.
Shawn Rodgers made aliya two years ago from South Africa, and arrived at Terminal 1. He says that though he remembers the terminal as decrepit, his environs weren't what bothered him the most about his first moments in Israel. He says he had trouble contacting the Immigrant Absorption Ministry upon his arrival, and difficulty communicating with ministry representatives once he finally got in touch with them.
"It's the process [of initial absorption] that's the problem," he said. "it doesn't make a difference where the hall is."
There should be at least someone there to meet people coming off the plane, to explain the whole process to them in their native language."
A total of 13,681 immigrants arrived in Israel in 2008 - 1.9 per 1,000 Israeli residents, the lowest ratio since the establishment of the state.