Israel readies for 'emergency aliya'

Although only some 60 Georgian Jews have filled out immigration papers, gov't preparing for dozens more.

georgian israelis 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
georgian israelis 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The government started preparing Monday for emergency aliya from Georgia, even though at this time only some 60 Georgian Jews have filled out immigration papers following the fighting that began there on Friday. Immigration and Absorption Minister Eli Aflalo convened an emergency meeting Monday at which it was decided that Georgian Jews desirous of making aliya would be eligible for an expanded immigration package reserved for emergency immigration and immigration of entire communities. Jewish Agency spokesman Michael Jankelowitz said that while 60 Georgian Jews have filled out immigration forms and opened aliya files, the Agency's emissaries in the country have been "inundated by scores of requests for information." Aflalo's spokesman, Zvi Avisar, said that Israel was gearing up for two waves of Georgian immigration. The first wave, which could begin arriving within the next two weeks, was expected to include "dozens of immigrants," he said. A second wave, he said, was expected even after the current fighting dies down. "The tension will remain," he said, "and in another month we are expecting a second wave, a bit more organized." Avisar said it was decided at Monday's meeting to send additional emissaries to the region to spread the word about the immigration possibilities, and to deal with the not inconsiderable logistical problems that are involved in bringing people from a conflict zone. One problem that has already arisen, he said, was that many of those who might be interested in immigrating do not have a valid passport or visa to leave the country. In addition to Aflalo, the meeting was also attended by Ze'ev Bielski, the head of the Jewish Agency, Shmuel Ben-Shmuel, the foreign ministry's deputy director-general in charge of Diaspora affairs, representatives of the Georgian Jewish community in Israel and other government officials. Ben-Shmuel, according to one participant at the meeting, said that the Foreign Ministry was looking into overland routes to Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey to facilitate those who may want to immigrate if the conflict spreads and it becomes impossible to leave Georgia by air. Bielski said that if there was a demand, the Jewish Agency would provide a special plane to take the Jews to Israel. The representatives of the Georgian community said that some of the Georgian Jews were hesitant to leave everything and come to Israel because they were concerned they would not find jobs or places to live upon arrival. Aflalo, according to his spokesman, said that the enhanced immigrant basket that the Georgian Jews would be provided was intended to ease their passage, and that they would be given additional rental money and opportunities for job re-training. One of the reasons that it was decided at the meeting to send additional emissaries to Georgia, Avisar said, was to spread the word among the Georgian Jews that Israel was gearing up for their arrival.