Thirty-six immigrants from Belarus are scheduled to land in Israel on Sunday on a regular commercial flight, despite the strict regulations Israel has introduced to curb the spread of the coronavirus. This flight will be the largest organized group of immigrants to arrive since the outbreak of the disease.
The flights were paid for and organized by the International Fellowship for Christians and Jews, a private charity active in promoting aliyah, Jewish immigration to Israel. It operates mainly in former Soviet bloc countries. The Jewish Agency, which has been assisting with logistics, confirmed that all the passengers had been approved for aliyah.
Under new rules aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus, only Israeli nationals and individuals pre-approved for immigration are allowed entry into the country as of now. All passengers landing in Israel are taken immediately to specially designated hotels, in which they must spend 14 days in quarantine.
According to a spokesman for the Jewish Agency, a total of 1,246 immigrants arrived in Israel in March, more than half of them from Russia. In mid-March, Israel went into virtual lockdown, with all schools, restaurants and most retail businesses closed.
Aliyah slowed down to a trickle in April, with only eight immigrants arriving in the first few days of the month. Most of the drop has been attributed to the fact that Russia and Ukraine – both major sources of aliyah in recent years – have closed their borders.
In early March, IFCJ brought over its last organized group – 30 immigrants from Brazil. Because of difficulties finding flights out of the country, the Brazilians were forced to delay their arrival to Israel. They eventually found connections through Turkey.
Nefesh b’Nefesh, the organization responsible for aliyah from North America, plans to fly in 22 immigrants from the United States next month. Most of them have tickets for an El Al flight scheduled to arrive in Israel on May 12. Since the Israeli national airline is no longer operating regular commercial flights, the passenger will likely be transferred to United Airlines, which is still flying direct to Israel from Newark.