Tamano-Shata sets a goal of 100,000 immigrants in next six months

ALIYAH AFFAIRS: Since Russia invaded Ukraine, more than 2,000 people who qualify under the Law of Return have made aliyah.

 PRIME MINISTER Naftali Bennett and Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata greet a young Ukrainian who arrived in Israel this week. (photo credit: NOGA MALSA)
PRIME MINISTER Naftali Bennett and Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata greet a young Ukrainian who arrived in Israel this week.
(photo credit: NOGA MALSA)

A month and a half ago, Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata began assessing the situation of the Jews of Ukraine and creating operational steps in order to obtain thousands of rooms, in case there would be a surge of Jewish immigrants from Ukraine, if a war would break out between Russia and Ukraine.

Government officials with whom I spoke this week told me that Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman laughed when he heard of Tamano-Shata’s efforts. Liberman, who immigrated to Israel from Moldova, is an expert on Russian matters.

“He said that there is no way for a war between Russia and Ukraine,” a source told me this week. A month and a half later, the world has changed dramatically. Billions of eyes are following this terrible war, the likes of which Europe hasn’t seen in close to eight decades.

When I spoke to Tamano-Shata just days before Russia’s President Vladimir Putin sent his troops to Ukraine, the numbers of Jews interested in making aliyah from Ukraine weren’t dramatic at all.

“The second the first bullet is fired, we’re going to see a surge of applications and requests,” she told me then.

 Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata is seen greeting Ukrainian refugees arriving in Israel through Operation Israeli Guarantee, on March 6, 2022. (credit: Noga Melasa/Aliyah and Integration Ministry) Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata is seen greeting Ukrainian refugees arriving in Israel through Operation Israeli Guarantee, on March 6, 2022. (credit: Noga Melasa/Aliyah and Integration Ministry)

I wonder whether even she knew then how true this would be. As of Thursday, more than 2,000 Ukrainians who qualify under the Law of Return have made aliyah, after fleeing from the fighting in Ukraine. They all stayed in a hotel for a few days in various countries that have a border with Ukraine, and afterward boarded an airplane to Israel – for the first time as citizens.

“OUR WORKING assumption is that about 50,000 people from Ukraine and Russia will immigrate in the next three months,” Tamano-Shata told The Jerusalem Post in an interview on Thursday. “This is also the assumption of Nativ and the Jewish Agency, which are taking care of the entire aliyah process until they arrive in Israel.”

Tamano-Shata is the most senior Israeli official in charge of this complicated and sensitive emergency aliyah operation, except for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. She has created a special cabinet with all the ministers who have relevance to the topic.

“We are sending more and more emissaries and employees to the Jewish Agency and Nativ which are operating in Poland, Moldova, Romania and Hungary. We are also increasing the amount of flights,” she said. “This is a complex issue. Formerly, we waited for immigrants to gather in each country. Nowadays, the planes will be waiting for the immigrants – and not the opposite.”

She revealed that the ministry has signed a deal with LOT Polish Airlines to create three weekly unique flights for refugees on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. In addition, the ministry is working to shorten the process of aliyah.

“Until now, the immigrants from Ukraine had to go through a process with Nativ and then Jewish Agency representatives. But now, we understand that in light of the emergency situation, we will change the process: The refugees will board a flight as tourists, and at Ben-Gurion Airport we will have our representatives run the entire process. They will receive an absorption package and be given a taxi to one of our six hotels across the country.”

Tamano-Shata said that her ministry has already secured 12,000 hotel beds. The refugees from Ukraine will be allowed to stay at these hotels for up to a month, free of charge, fully paid for by the government. They will not only be served three meals a day, but also be assisted by volunteers, and soldiers from IDF’s Home Front Command, and officials of the Welfare and Education ministries. All of these representatives are already waiting for them at the hotels, and they will be able to get all the answers they need, Tamano-Shata said.

One of the major changes in the attitude toward the Ukrainian refugees is that they are considered new immigrants even before going through the full process.

“Today, we have crossed the threshold of 2,000 immigrants from the beginning of the fighting in Ukraine. About 1,000 to 1,200 will arrive weekly in the near future. Moreover, 15,000 Jews have already applied for aliyah through the Jewish Agency and to our Global [Service] Center hotline for information about immigration to Israel – from all the FSU [former Soviet Union] countries.

“We understand that alongside Ukraine, the bigger event is the influx of interest in aliyah from Russia, Belarus and the rest of the FSU countries. About 650,000 are entitled to [make aliyah under] the Law of Return [from] Russia – that’s more than two times as many [from] Ukraine. We expect a dramatic rise in immigration from Russia. The economy is collapsing there; they cannot withdraw money from the ATMs. There are no flights; Aeroflot stopped flying to Israel. We understand that this is an equally big event.”

An oleh from around the world – not a refugee – receives NIS 3,300 in cash. Refugees will receive NIS 6,000, and families NIS 15,000.

Additionally, the Construction and Housing Ministry has prepared a unique housing plan for the Ukrainian refugees, at Tamano-Shata’s request. The immediate response, according to the program, is hotel rooms for about a month. The medium-range response will be housing in various government-owned institutions, such as university dorms, apartments owned by public institutions and old age homes. Additionally, there is housing in caravans in Judea, Samaria and periphery areas.

The long-term response will be assisting the refugees in purchasing an apartment – providing increased mortgage assistance. The amount of assistance hasn’t been set yet. The ministry has offered to purchase buildings in the construction stages and convert them into apartments for rent.

TAMANO-SHATA said that her ministry and other ministries will be in need of additional funding. “We held a meeting with the finance minister with a variety of relevant ministries. The current estimate is about 50,000 new immigrants. We will be receiving hundreds of millions of shekels in the first phase, but that won’t be enough. We assume we’ll need an additional NIS 1 billion for our ministry alone.”

One of the ways for the Aliyah Ministry to get mayors of cities to make an effort to open their doors to new olim is to offer the municipality NIS 10,000 for each refugee who will move there. This isn’t finalized yet.

“It is a great privilege for me to help our fellow Jews of Ukraine in this difficult time, which is also a propitious hour for the State of Israel,” Tamano-Shata said. “I won’t rest until I know that all government ministries are prepared to absorb the tens of thousands of immigrants who will first arrive in Israel as refugees. Our ministry has been working around the clock, and I am proud of our workers.

“The prime minister and I also appointed a project manager to run an emergency administration and remove bureaucracies that are a stumbling block to immigration,” she said. “My goal is 100,000 immigrants in the next six months.

“The absorption task is complex, so I thank the finance minister for the mobilization of funds.”