Sharansky: Provide housing now for Ethiopian immigrants

Jewish Agency head: "We can't repeat mistakes of the past and permit a situation in which they will have to stay [in absorption centers] for years.

Sharansky 311 (photo credit: Andrs Kovacs)
Sharansky 311
(photo credit: Andrs Kovacs)
The Jewish Agency for Israel urged the government on Monday to provide adequate housing solutions prior to the expected arrival of over 7,800 Ethiopians of Jewish ancestry in the country.
“Absorption centers are intended to assist olim in their first steps in Israel,” agency chairman Natan Sharansky said. “We cannot repeat the mistakes of the past and permit a situation in which they will have to stay there for years.”
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Thousands of temporary housing units were quickly set up at the height of the immigration of Russian and Ethiopian Jews during the 1990s to accommodate the influx of newcomers. Most olim managed to find better living arrangements after a few years, but some remained behind.
About 4,500 Israelis of Ethiopian origin still live in absorption centers, the Jewish Agency said.
On Sunday, the government officially gave JAFI the go-ahead to bring the remaining Ethiopians of Jewish ancestry to Israel.
“If olim who live in absorption centers won’t be able to purchase apartments and find permanent living arrangements, there won’t be any room to absorb new olim from Ethiopia who arrive in Israel based on the government’s decision, within a year and a half from now,” said Eli Cohen, the head of JAFI’s absorption department.
According to the decision approved Sunday, the state has three months to bring an initial 700 already-approved Falash Mura to Israel, and it has until next August to wrap up Interior Ministry eligibility checks of all 7,846 people who claim they fit into earlier criteria that would allow them to immigrate under a special clause in the Law of Entry.
In a statement distributed following the government announcement on Sunday, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which announced it would contribute an additional NIS 10 million to meet the basic needs of the Falash Mura waiting in Ethiopia for aliya, said that its ongoing support of Jewish Agency activities was part of the organization’s “belief that absorption of Ethiopian Jews in Israel will continue to strengthen the position of the State of Israel and the Jewish people.”
“We welcome the historic and moral decision taken by the Israeli government to continue aliya from Ethiopia,” said IFCJ CEO Zion Gabai. “The IFCJ has accompanied the Ethiopian community for almost 10 years and will do everything possible to assist their absorption in Israel.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Sunday that this particular decision, the latest in a long line of motions passed by the government, would be successful this time because it had the approval and coordination of all the organizations working with the Falash Mura community in Ethiopia.
Ruth Eglash contributed to this report.