Ethiopian protest Tiberias 248.88.
(photo credit: Avi Masfin)
Ethiopian rights groups spoke out this week against a government-Jewish Agency decision to close the main immigrant absorption center in Tiberias in the coming weeks due to budget difficulties faced by both bodies.
The 380 residents of the Recital Absorption Center - all immigrants from Ethiopia who have been here less than two years - received notices in late December telling them that the center would be closing and that alternative accommodation would be found for them.
"As a person involved in social welfare issues who has personally been exposed to many cases of discrimination and racism, I'm still shocked that two organizations charged with the welfare of new immigrants would become the instigators of such problems for them," said Danny Admasu, director of the Israel Association of Ethiopian Jews.
The association, together with Tebeka ("advocates for justice" in Amharic), urged the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, which works in partnership with the Jewish Agency at the center, to hold off on the closure at least until the current school year is complete and to allow those immigrants who are working nearby to part from their employers on good terms.
"I've been living in the absorption center for the past year and three months and work nearby as a dish washer," said Adis Avka, 35. "To come to us without warning and tell us we have to move, especially when my children are in the middle of the school year, is not fair."
"To close down an absorption center in the middle of the year and completely ignore the needs of the people living there is unacceptable," said Yitzhak Desse, the director of Tebeka.
Community representatives, who last week petitioned Jewish Agency and ministry officials on the issue, said the closure would cause significant and irreversible damage to the absorption and integration of the immigrants, who already struggle to adjust to their new lives in Israel.
In response, the Immigrant Absorption Ministry and the agency issued a joint statement pointing out that the move was purely a financial decision made due to recent cutbacks to the sector.
"After a series of discussions with the residents of Recital, we have agreed to move them to another absorption center not far from Tiberias and to provide the children with transport to their schools, so as to minimize the disturbance to their current routine," the ministry said in a statement.
A Jewish Agency spokesman told The Jerusalem Post the move was part of ongoing cutbacks faced by the quasi-governmental organization and was not specifically aimed at the Ethiopian immigrant community but rather part of wider phenomenon.
He pointed out that Ulpan Etzion, a popular absorption center in Jerusalem for single immigrants under 35 from Western countries, was also scaled back earlier this year, and absorption programs in Lod and Arad were also cut.
In October, the Jewish Agency - which also receives donations from international Jewry - had its 2009 budget slashed by some $45 million, forcing it to lay off employees around the world.