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Jewish Agency May Retain Role in Providing Absorption Services

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The Jewish Agency for Israel is reconsidering its decision to transfer absorption services to the government, alleging that government agencies are not making a serious effort to prepare for an expected mass influx of Soviet immigrants.

“All options are now open for the agency,” including taking full responsibility for absorption, Simcha Dinitz told the annual conference of the British Settlers Association on Sunday. Dinitz chairs the World Zionist Organization-Jewish Agency Executive.

“When the agency agreed to transfer absorption services to the government by April 1990, our intentions were sincere,” he said. “The decision was taken out of a desire to improve services and eliminate duplication.

“Since the government has not yet shown that it is ready to take responsibility, the agency is reconsidering its decision,” he said.

The association of former Soviet prisoners of Zion in Israel called a news conference in Tel Aviv on Tuesday morning to castigate both the government and the Jewish Agency for what it termed failures to deal correctly with immigrant absorption.

The former Soviet prisoners demanded from both bodies what they termed an “organizational earthquake” in absorption procedures, in view of the massive wave of immigration foreseen from the Soviet Union.

PROBLEMS FINDING HOUSING

Last week, Deputy Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu predicted that “hundreds of thousands” of Soviet Jews could immigrate to Israel within the next few years.

Soviet Jewry activists in the United States say 40,000 Jews could leave the Soviet Union this year alone, meaning that about 4,000 would go to Israel, if current emigration trends remain constant.

The former prisoners said the government is not doing enough to prepare for such an immigration flood and that services provided to immigrants already in Israel are inadequate.

The recent decision to close absorption centers and instead provide subsidies for housing has left many newcomers with no suitable housing, the ex-prisoners charged.

They said some immigrants were forced to look for apartments after only a few days in Israel, having little knowledge of Hebrew with which to negotiate deals with apartment owners or builders.

They also said that many new immigrants could not find work, and they complained of “rude and humiliating treatment” at the hands of Jewish Agency officials.

They demanded that all absorption centers be reopened and that new ones be built, if necessary. They welcomed Dinitz’s statement that the agency was considering amending its decision to hand absorption matters over to the government.

“Bad absorption is killing immigration,” the spokesmen said.

A survey of immigrants in absorption centers conducted recently by the Absorption Ministry showed that only 10 percent of the 2,500 house-holds there need subsidized housing. An earlier survey found half the immigrants need housing.

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