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U.S. Against Refugee Status for Soviet Emigres in Israel

The State Department has no plans to change U.S. immigration laws to allow Soviet Jews to come to the United States from Israel as refugees, a senior Reagan administration official said Wednesday.

“There’s no intention to apply to change the (U.S.) immigration code, the refugee regulations” Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy told the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East. Murphy also argued that such a U.S. policy “would be rejected by the government of Israel.”

Under current U.S. law, Soviet Jews are not considered refugees after they arrive in Israel. But there have been reports that the State Department might grant refugee status to Soviet Jews if Israel implements a recent decision by its Cabinet to require all Soviet Jews emigrating on Israeli visas to go directly to Israel.

Murphy, who heads the Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, said that Israel has been “very unhappy” that over the last few months more than 75 percent of Soviet Jews leaving on Israeli visas have “dropped out” in Vienna to leave for Rome, where they can then apply to immigrate to the United States as refugees. The dropout rate in some months has been as high as 90 percent, Murphy noted.

He said one Israeli official complained of becoming a “travel agency” for Soviet Jews. Virtually all Soviet Jews leaving the USSR leave on Israeli visas.

The Israeli Cabinet voted in June to require all Soviet Jews leaving on Israeli visas to fly from Moscow to Tel Aviv via Bucharest, Romania, where they would pick up the visas. This would presumably make it impossible for visa recipients to “drop out” and go to the United States.

CONSULAR TEAM EN ROUTE

Neither the Soviet nor Romanian governments have yet reached any decision on meeting Israel’s request. An Israeli consular delegation left for Moscow Tuesday, the first Israeli diplomatic delegation to go to the Soviet Union in 21 years.

Murphy noted that the United States supports “freedom of choice” for Soviet Jews in deciding where to settle.

Mainstream Jewish organizations and refugee resettlement agencies have supported the Israeli decision while maintaining that Soviet Jews who want to come to the United States should leave on U.S. visas.

Few Jews currently do so. Those that do received a setback earlier this month, when the U.S. Embassy in Moscow announced that it could not continue issuing visas on the usual basis, because it had run out of funds earmarked for refugee resettlement.

The subcommittee hearing, chaired by Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.), also focused on the Middle East and the situation in the Persian Gulf. Committee members sharply differed with Murphy on the wisdom of the administration’s proposed $1.8 billion arms sale to Kuwait.

The House has until Aug. 6 to vote on a resolution to block the sale, introduced by Rep. Lawrence Smith (D-Fla.). The Senate voted July 7 to ban part of the package — 300 Maverick “G” air-to-ground missiles.

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