Backlog of Soviet Jewish Refugees Putting Strain on Towns, Budgets
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Backlog of Soviet Jewish Refugees Putting Strain on Towns, Budgets

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The increasing flow of Soviet Jewish refugees into Italy is straining the budgets of Jewish relief organizations.

It is also creating potential problems in the towns where they are temporarily housed awaiting visas for the United States and elsewhere.

Officials of Jewish relief agencies say that in light of tightened U.S. immigration policy, an effort is being made to encourage the Soviet Jews to immigrate to Israel instead of to the United States.

The sources said about 7,200 Soviet Jews are presently in Italy as transmigrants, in addition to another 2,000 en route here who currently are at refugee processing centers in Vienna.

The Soviet Jews are concentrated in the small seaside resort of Ladispoli, north of Rome, and in one or two other towns nearby. In addition, about 1,000 Iranian Jews are said to be in Vienna or Italy.

Jews have been able to leave the Soviet Union in sharply increased numbers in recent months under the policies of President Mikhail Gorbachev.

At the same time, American immigration authorities have been more selective in issuing refugee status to Soviet emigrants. So far, about 600 Soviet Jews have been refused U.S. refugee status, once accorded automatically to Jewish emigrants from the USSR.

Those who have been denied refugee status could go to Israel without any problems. But many do not want to do so.

“We will have problems if these people decide to go underground and stay in Italy,” said a Jewish official. “The agreement with Italy is that they can come through here, but won’t stay here,” the official said.

“Both the Austrians and the Italians are doing a great thing here,” he added.


Sources here say the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which provides housing, cultural activities and financial assistance to the refugees, is “very hard pressed” to meet every-one’s needs because of the increased numbers. The agency is said to be operating “on a real shoestring budget.”

They said per diem allowances given by the Joint to each refugee have had to be cut by 10 percent — from $10 to $9 a day — and that further cuts may take place because “the numbers are so huge.”

Sylvia Hassenfeld, president of the Joint Distribution Committee, visited the refugees last week in Ladispoli and at a hotel on the edge of Rome that serves as a way station for them.

“Ladispoli is becoming a problem,” she said, because of the heavy concentration of refugees in the town.

“We encourage them to go elsewhere, but they want to go to Ladispoli. They want to stay together,” she said. “After all, they left everything.”

Her concern echoed that expressed earlier last week by Ladispoli’s mayor, who said that although the situation had not yet become critical, the rapid influx of people could be disruptive.

Refugees arriving by train from Vienna go directly from Rome’s station to the Hotel Nordland, where the Joint Distribution Committee pays for their stay for a week.

During this time, they are taken to Ladispoli to let them find apartments.

Last Thursday, the scene was typical. Scores of men, women and children of all ages, chatting among themselves in Russian, milled about in they hotel lobby amid enormous piles of luggage. They were waiting for a bus to take them to their new temporary housing in Ladispoli.

Meanwhile, relief workers and hotel personnel were getting ready to greet more than 100 newcomers expected any minute at the railroad station.

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