MKs to demand Bar-On reconsider pace of Falash Mura immigration
IN light of ongoing violence in northern Africa, limit of 300 a month seems too severe.
By JERUSALEM POST STAFF
In light of the ongoing violence in northern Africa, the Knesset Immigration and Absorption Committee announced Monday that it could not accept the government's decision to limit Falash Mura immigration to 300 people a month.
In the coming weeks, MKs from the committee plan to file a petition to Interior Minister Roni Bar-On demanding that he reevaluate his decision to limit the number of Falash Mura, or Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity under duress.
"The decision not to speed up immigration, when Jews are so clearly in peril, is blatant racism," said MK Uri Ariel (NU-NRP).
An Interior Ministry representative told MKs that the ministry did not have the budget or resources to bring over more than 300 Falash Mura per month. During negotiations for the 2007 budget, several coalition MKs had demanded that the government raise the amount allocated to Falash Mura immigration. Ultimately, Bar-On convinced the ministerial committee on the budget not to expand the number of Falash Mura, stating that the "demand was not great enough."
While the Interior Ministry estimates that there are 7,000 Falash Mura approved to immigrate, Ethiopian organizations in Israel claim that the number is much higher and that Jewish Agency and immigration officials have stopped registering or processing many of the claims by Ethiopians from small villages interested in coming to Israel.
"The Interior Ministry can keep this slow pace and say that they will 'be done' bringing everyone over in the next year simply because they are not using correct numbers," said Ariel.
MK Collete Avital (Labor), who initiated Monday's discussion in the committee, said that despite efforts to evaluate the number of Falash Mura in Ethiopia by various agencies, there remains a great discrepancy between the government's figures of those eligible for immigration and the figures of human rights organizations.
"We have sat here and listened to many arguments about the number of Falash Mura," said Avital. "I have heard much said about government bureaucracy and how slowly it moves - this is a terrible case of disorganization."
Avital added that while the current situation in Ethiopia did not pose a direct threat to the lives of Falash Mura, the Knesset could not "wait around" to act until people's lives were in peril.
"It may be true that the Falash Mura are not on the front lines of violence, but all of us here know that when a country is at war, everyone is affected," said Avraham Ngoso. "The price of food and basic necessities has been raised, and many of those who are waiting to immigrate are living in abject poverty."
Violence in the Horn of Africa region has been ongoing since December 24, 2006, when Ethiopian forces launched air strikes against the Islamist militia in Somalia. The Ethiopian prime minister has said that he refuses to accept the Islamist leaderships in Somalia and, instead, will continue fighting for the current transitional government.
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