Jews Should Do More to Assist Immigrants, Says U.S. Official
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Jews Should Do More to Assist Immigrants, Says U.S. Official

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The Reagan administration’s top human rights specialist called this week on the American Jewish community to pay more attention to new immigrants.

Richard Schifter, assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs, said Sunday night that with Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union now averaging 2,000 a month, the Jewish community must do more to help new immigrants adjust to their new life.

“We must keep in mind that the immigrants need to be integrated into the new surroundings, wherever these may be,” Schifter told the annual meeting here of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews.

“They need counseling, retraining, advice and assistance in finding a home, getting such a home and job placement.”

When Schifter was asked if the United States could provide funds for Soviet Jews who are still living in absorption centers in Israel because they do not have the money for home mortgages, he replied that he believed Congress would.

Stressing that he was speaking as an individual and not as a government official, Schifter said Congress would act “more generously” if it first saw a “real effort” by the Jewish community to provide funds for this need.

Schifter spoke at a dinner during which he and Rozanne Ridgway, U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs, received the UCSJ’s Anatoly Sharansky Freedom Award.


A major focus of attention at the dinner, as well as throughout the three-day meeting here, was the concluding document now being discussed in Vienna by the 35 nations participating in the ongoing follow-up session of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The conference is reviewing implementation of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. Once the concluding document is signed, the NATO and Warsaw Pact countries will begin discussions on negotiations for reducing conventional arms in Europe.

The UCSJ has urged the Reagan administration not to sign the document until the Soviet Union lives up to its human rights commitments and, specifically, makes changes in its laws easing emigration restrictions.

Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze promised during his visit to Washington last month that these changes would be made in January.

UCSJ President Pamela Cohen, in introducing the two State Department officials, read a letter to Secretary of State George Shultz from prominent Soviet refuseniks, urging that the document not be signed.

With the Soviet Union still violating the Helsinki Accords, “it is unthinkable that Western democracies are ready to betray human rights activists in the USSR and sign yet another ambiguous document,” the refuseniks said in their letter.

Ridgway stressed that “until there is the right balance between security and human rights, we will continue to sit in Vienna.”

She denied that the Reagan administration wants to conclude the document before it leaves office on Jan. 20. “If we can get an agreement between now and the 20th of January, we will sign on to it” she said. “And if we can’t, we will still be there on the 20th of January.”


Ridgway said that the Western countries, and the United States in particular, are trying to extract more performance on human rights from the Soviet Union, despite the “tremendous pressure to get on with conventional forces talks.”

She said that one major new problem is Soviet determination to have a human rights conference in Moscow. The West has insisted that such a conference depends on improvements in Soviet human rights practices.

Ridgway said the Soviets are now trying to change the argument on the grounds that if human rights conferences are held in Paris in 1989 and in Copenhagen in 1990, then such a conference should be held in Moscow in 1991.

Ridgway, who has personally conducted discussions on human rights during summits between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, acknowledged that “we are a witness to change in the Soviet Union.” But she cautioned that no one knows whether such change will be good or bad for the United States.

She said that while prisoners of conscience have been released and emigration has increased, it is being done “in a very arbitrary fashion.”

Schifter said that while the changes may benefit the Jews in the USSR, they are still at risk. He said he believes that even more than 400,000 Jews want to leave the Soviet Union.

Long-term refuseniks are still being denied on the “spurious grounds” of possession of state secrets and the need for the permission of their parents, he said. Eliminating these practices are among the proposed changes in Soviet law.

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