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Emigration of Soviet Jews Hit a Nine-year High in December

Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union jumped to 3,652 in December, the largest monthly total in nine years, according to the National Conference on Soviet Jewry.

That brings the total for 1988 to 19,286, the highest annual figure since 1980, when 21,471 Jews left the Soviet Union. In 1987, 8,155 Jews were allowed to emigrate, and only 914 were permitted to do so the year before.

The conference revised its November Jewish emigration figure to 2,328. The jump to the December figure was “the most substantial monthly increase for 1988,” said Debbie Strober, press spokeswoman for the organization.

In fact, more Jews were allowed to leave the Soviet Union in December than in any other single month since December 1979, when 4,145 emigrated, according to National Conference statistics.

“Let us hope that the trend toward increased emigration will continue in 1989 and that all remaining refuseniks will be included,” said Shoshana Cardin, the conference’s chairwoman.

Strober said the National Conference has ascertained that 2,696 refuseniks remain in the Soviet Union. The number does not include the increasing number of new applicants, she said.

U.S. WELCOMES PROGRESS

In Washington, the State Department praised the Soviet Union on Friday for significantly increasing Jewish emigration in 1988. Department spokeswoman Phyllis Oakley said the Soviets “made significant progress” in human rights in 1988.

She also said the United States hopes to see fulfillment of promises made by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in his Dec. 7 speech at the United Nations. These include extensive changes in Soviet human rights policies, such as those restricting freedom of conscience and association.

Oakley also mentioned Gorbachev’s promised changes in Soviet “exit-entry procedures,” and specifically a repeal of the law barring emigration to someone privy to state secrets.

In the category of long-term refuseniks, Oakley said many recently received permission to emigrate or saw their “security secrecy restrictions lifted.” They include 50 refuseniks who live in or near Leningrad.

Now, the United States is looking forward to “the actual departure of these people from the Soviet Union,” she said.

Oakley also cited the Kremlin’s release of more than 600 political prisoners since the current Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe human rights talks began in Vienna in November 1986. She said that includes “all prisoners known to us” charged under political or religious articles of the Soviet criminal code.

Oakley said the United States has not yet decided whether to agree to the Soviets’ proposed 1991 human rights conference in Moscow.

Secretary of State George Shultz warned Nov. 30 that for the United States to agree to such a conference, “we have to see the Soviet Union basically complying with what it agreed to in the Helsinki Final Act.”

(JTA correspondent Howard Rosenberg in Washington contributed to this report.)

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