JA Heeds Ethiopian Immigrants' Plight

Staff at far-flung Beit Alfa absorption center to be replaced, number of residents reduced following protests.

A review committee set up by the Jewish Agency's immigration and absorption department on Tuesday recommended comprehensive and immediate solutions for improving the living conditions of immigrants in Beit Alfa.

Among other things, the committee has urged replacing the absorption center staff, limiting the number of immigrants residing there and dividing the absorption center in two in order to enable immigrant families to have individual escorts and improve services provided to them.

In addition, the committee recommended granting priority in issuing increased housing grants for the purchase of apartments for those departing the absorption center, expanding on-site health services and accelerating the conversion process. The committee also considered how children are treated at the center and ways of enhancing the living conditions and improving leisure activities there.

Avi Maspin, a spokesman for the Israeli association for Ethiopian Jews, said in the wake of the recommendations, "the many flaws prove that the problems are genuine and deep-rooted. The committee's recommendations prove the distress the protesters cried out about without the establishment making any attempt to hear them.

Maspin added that he has a hard time believing that the report's recommendations will be implemented in the short term. "It seems that it is preferable to accede to the simple request and transfer them to an accessible absorption center instead of wasting public funds."

For several months, residents of the Beit Alfa absorption center have been complaining about their living conditions in the isolated area. The immigrants blame the Ministry of Absorption and the Jewish Agency, whom they claim are not seeing to their needs.

According to the immigrants, since their arrival at the absorption center they have experienced severe economic distress, unemployment and hunger. They also claim having received degrading treatment from Jewish Agency counselors that is reflected, they say, in the failure to help them fill out National Insurance Institute forms and in a lack of information on the location of Employment Service offices, something that causes delays in their receiving unemployment benefits.