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Israel to bring 20,000 remaining Falashmura by ´07 (HA´ARETZ NEWS) By Amiram Barkat 02/01/05)Source: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/534408.html HA'ARETZ} NEWS SERVICE HA'ARETZ} NEWS SERVICE Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
The last 20,000 Falashmura who are eligible to immigrate to Israel will be brought here by the end of 2007, the government decided yesterday.

To achieve this aim, the rate of immigration from Ethiopia will be doubled as of June 1, 2005, from 300 people a month to 600.

The decision was made at a meeting of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Interior Minister Ophir Pines- Paz, Absorption Minister Tzipi Livni and Jewish Agency Chairman Salai Meridor.

It instructs the Interior Ministry to finish determining within two months which of the Falashmura currently waiting in transit camps in Ethiopia are eligible to come here, and for this purpose, authorizes an increase in the ministry´s staff in Ethiopia. It also instructs the relevant ministries to prepare a detailed plan for the Falashmura´s immigration and absorption within three months. Sharon said that the Finance Ministry will allocate the necessary funds.

The transit camps, located in Addis Ababa and Gondar, are currently run by the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry in conjunction with the local communities. Under the government plan, NACOEJ will transfer responsibility for the camps to the Jewish Agency in approximately September 2005.

The agency and NACOEJ signed an agreement to this effect on Sunday.

Forced to convert

In February 2003, the cabinet decided that Israel would take in all Falashmura - Ethiopians who claim that they were forced to convert from Judaism - who are of Jewish descent on the mother´s side. The vast majority of the Falashmura in the camps are thought to meet this criterion. However, the Interior Ministry has been conducting the eligibility checks very slowly, and former interior minister Avraham Poraz decided that until the checks were completed, only 300 Falashmura per month would be permitted to immigrate.

That decision outraged both the Israeli Ethiopian community and many American Jewish organizations, and both put heavy pressure on the government to speed up the Falashmura´s immigration. Both groups welcomed the government´s decision yesterday.

Livni, who in the past opposed speeding up the Falashmura´s immigration because of the expense of absorbing them, said that the great achievement of yesterday´s decision was the treasury´s pledge to cover the absorption costs.

According to a spokesman for the Jewish Agency, Michael Jankelowitz, it costs the state an average of about $100,000 to bring over and settle each Falashmura. Among other benefits, Ethiopian immigrants are entitled to housing grants that cover up to 90 percent of the purchase price of an apartment.

Bottomless pit

In addition, the Interior Ministry has long worried that the Falashmura would prove a "bottomless pit," with every batch that leaves the transit camps for Israel immediately being replaced by new claimants.

The Jewish Agency´s takeover of the camps is meant to alleviate that fear: It will ensure that new claimants do not enter the camps, and that the camps are shut down once the current Falashmura group has immigrated.

But Jewish Agency officials acknowledged yesterday that the agency still lacks the funds needed to run the transit camps. They said it will probably solicit funds from international Jewry for this purpose.

Upon arrival in Israel, the Falashmura undergo conversion to Judaism, after which they are entitled to all the benefits of new immigrants under the Law of Return. (© Copyright 2005 Haaretz. 02/01/05)




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