NEW YORK (Aug. 16)
The number of Ethiopian Jews permitted to leave for Israel is expected during August to return to its previous level of 500 per month, after a drop to 144 in July, an American activist for Ethiopian Jews said this week.
Kassa Kebede, a top aide to Ethiopian leader Mengistu Haile Mariam, is now in Israel talking to officials in order to facilitate emigration, according to William Recant, executive vice president of the American Association for Ethiopian Jews.
“My understanding is that Kebede is in Israel to set up a standard practice for family reunification, so that people won’t have to go through so much bureaucracy any longer,” Recant said.
A number of sources confirmed Recant’s report, as well as his estimate that so far this month, about 140 Ethiopian Jews have been able to leave for Israel from the crowded conditions of the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.
Approximately 15,000 Jews are temporarily housed in the Ethiopian capital, hoping to emigrate and settle in Israel. They fled their native Gondar region, which has been torn by rebels fighting to topple the Mengistu regime.
Michael Schneider, executive director of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, who returned this week from Addis Ababa, asserted that through his organization, American Jewry has “assumed full operational and financial responsibility for the care and maintenance of the Jewish population there.”
Schneider estimated that this care could cost the American Jewish community as much as $7 million this year. The JDC budget is funded by allocations from the United Jewish Appeal.
Schneider explained that JDC is now directly distributing household goods, medical supplies and food to the Ethiopian Jews in Addis Ababa.
BLANKETS, MATTRESSES AND MONEY
For example, he said, JDC has already sent 12,000 blankets to the capital, and “we are ordering 15,000 mattresses, because people are sleeping on hard surfaces.”
In addition to the goods supplied directly by JDC, the organization is also distributing 300 metric tons of grain provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
JDC is also indirectly helping to supply the cash allowances given to Ethiopian Jews. The allowances, used by the Ethiopian Jews to secure housing, are distributed by Almaya, an Israeli non-profit organization, Schneider explained.
“JDC is not involved operationally in this program, but is channeling UJA funds out of its own budget to this organization for implementation,” he said.
Schneider said JDC’s medical director is now in the country, and a senior medical consultant is leaving for Ethiopia shortly.
Though the entire Ethiopian Jewish population has been inoculated against measles and meningitis, the harsh, unsanitary conditions in Addis Ababa have resulted in deaths, though at no higher rate than the general population of the city.
Schneider stressed that JDC is involved in relief efforts and is not playing a role in facilitating the emigration of Ethiopian Jews, which he said is being handled by the Israeli government.