JERUSALEM (JTA) — The family of a young Ethiopian Jew who competed in this year’s International Bible Contest but was told he could not stay in Israel was allowed to make aliyah this week after a private organization raised the money.
Sintayehu Shaparou took part in the Jerusalem-based competition in April when he was 18. Although his father and some of his siblings had made aliyah in the early 2000s, the remaining members of his family were never granted permission to move to Israel.
He was granted residency by the Interior Ministry in April after it became public that Sintayehu was forced to deposit money with immigration and border control officials as a guarantee that he would leave the country following the Bible contest.
Shaparou is a member of the Falash Mura community, descendants of Jews who converted to Christianity in the 19th century, many under duress. The Interior Ministry does not classify the Falash Mura as Jews and they are required to receive special legal dispensations to make aliyah, as they are not eligible under the Law of Return.
According to Heart of Israel, an activist group that raised the money for Shaparou’s family’s resettlement, the Shaparous have never learned the reason for the rejection of their immigration application. In a statement released to the media on Wednesday, the group announced that the remaining members of Shaparou’s family had been granted residency status after months of lobbying and are expected to arrive later this month.
In February, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Interior Ministry announced that they would only allow 1,000 immigrants from Ethiopia in 2018. The government has consistently cited budgetary issues as a reason for limiting Ethiopian aliyah.
Some 1,300 were allowed in over the course of 2017.
In 2015, the Netanyahu administration announced that it planned to resume Ethiopian aliyah after saying two years earlier that it would end it, leaving some 9,000 people waiting in transit camps in Addis Ababa and Gondar and prompting widespread protests by Ethiopian Israelis. The government committed to bringing in 9,000 immigrants over a period of five years.
Many of those left in Ethiopia have family members who have been allowed to come while their relatives were denied the same opportunity.