Gov't failures in Falash Mura immigration decried

Ethiopian leaders, NGOs say gov't isn't adequately assisting, supporting thousands of Jews waiting to make aliya, not preparing.

Ethiopian immigrants 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Ethiopian immigrants 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The Israeli government is failing to adequately assist and support the thousands of Ethiopian Jews currently waiting in the city of Gondar to make aliya and is not properly preparing itself for the absorption of this group of immigrants, leaders of the Ethiopian community here and representatives of non-profits working in Ethiopia said this week.
Speaking in the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs on Monday, those working closely with Ethiopian aliya pointed out that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was supposed to have obtained the relevant permits from the Ethiopian government to enable the Jewish Agency for Israel to act as its operative in Gondar, where some 8,000 Falash Mura (Ethiopians of Jewish descent) are in the process of being approved for immigration to Israel.
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While the Jewish Agency is already working informally to help those waiting in an administrative center in the city, set up over the last decade by the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jews (NACOEJ), it is not doing enough to meet all the needs of those who have already been approved but are still waiting for a flight date, leaders said.
“A lot is being done for those waiting in Gondar but it is not enough,” said Dr. Avraham Neguise, executive director of the non-profit organization South Wing to Zion, a grassroots group that has been lobbying the government to allow the Falash Mura to immigrate to Israel.
He said the fact that the Jewish Agency has no formal permit from the Ethiopian government to operate in the administrative center is a “disaster” for those people still waiting to make aliya.
“Once the people arrive here they get all the help they need from the Israeli government but the real problem is that the Jewish Agency cannot give them full assistance while they wait to make aliya,” Neguise told The Jerusalem Post.
“The Jewish Agency needs this permission so that it can formally take over running the compound in Gondar from NACOEJ, like the government said it would do last November.”
“The Jewish Agency was supposed to have received the permission last March but we are now in June and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has done nothing,” commented Ethiopian-Israeli Member of Knesset Shlomo Molla (Kadima). “It is very problematic.”
In a written response, the Foreign Ministry said it had received oral confirmation from the Ethiopian government that two Jewish Agency employees could work as part of official diplomatic operations based out of Addis Ababa. Both employees, said the Foreign Ministry, were already listed as Israeli diplomats in Ethiopia.
“Throughout the years, the MFA [Foreign Ministry] has helped JAFI staff wherever they operate in the world and will continue to do so, especially in Ethiopia,” read the response.
Sources from within NACOEJ, however, pointed out that Ambassador to Ethiopia, Oded Ben-Haim said as recently as two months ago he was still waiting for instructions on the matter from the Foreign Ministry.
In addition to obstacles facing those still in Ethiopia, local leaders here say preparations for continued absorption of the immigrants have been very slow to progress. At Monday’s Knesset meeting on the matter, they expressed anger over the failure of an interministerial committee created to address a potential housing shortage within the next six months.
Under the November decision, between 200 and 300 Ethiopian immigrants have been arriving here each month but with a slow absorption process and little emphasis on moving the immigrants from Jewish Agency-run absorption centers into permanent housing, spaces have not opened up to house the newest batch of immigrants.
In the Knesset hearing on Monday, committee chairman Danny Danon (Likud) criticized the Treasury, which heads the interministerial committee, for this failure and heard about a vague plan to house new immigrants in rented apartments for an interim period before they are provided with government mortgage subsidies to purchase permanent housing.
“This is not a serious idea,” dismissed Molla. “We just hope that this failure by the Finance Ministry will not cause the flow of immigrants from Ethiopia to slow down and I urge the relevant authorities to open two or three more absorption centers until this problem is solved.”
Dr. Neguise added that by 2012, there will be no more spaces available in already existing absorption centers and that the idea to move more veteran immigrants to rented accommodation would be disastrous as well as expensive.
“No one will agree to this,” he said. “I don’t know why the government cannot either increase the mortgage for Ethiopian immigrants so they can buy their own houses, or open some more absorption centers.”
In the meeting, the Finance Ministry said it was still formulating its recommendations and had until the beginning of next year to come up with alternative options.