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Israeli Officials Demands Emergency Measures To Handle Immigrant Wave

December 24, 1990

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israeli officials said Sunday that emergency efforts are needed to accommodate an influx of Soviet Jews, who the immigration minister said are ″raining from the sky″ in record numbers.

In southern Beersheba, immigrants set up a tent camp to protest lack of housing. Other Israelis there staged a demonstration to urge that mobile homes for immigrants not be put near their prosperous neighborhood.

About 5,500 Soviet Jews reached Israel in a special airlift from Thursday through Saturday, with an additional 1,500 arriving Sunday.

State television broadcast footage of the unprecedented flood of immigrants being processed at Ben Gurion International Airport outside Tel Aviv.

″I’ve never seen anything like this here,″ said Shifra Oren, a longtime volunteer at the terminal.

Immigration Minister Yitzhak Peretz said the influx of newcomers had forced authorities to resort to emergency housing solutions for the first time since the immigration wave began in mid-1989. He said about a third of this weekend’s arrivals were housed in hotels.

Officials attributed the upsurge to fears of political instability and the economic crisis in the Soviet Union, and to improved transit through Eastern European countries.

″The trick is to get the Jews out as soon as quickly as possible,″ Seymour Reich, outgoing chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said after stepping off a plane.

Reich said the urgency was partly out of concerns triggered by Thursday’s resignation of Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze. The resignation has aggravated fears of growing unrest in the Soviet Union.

Jewish groups planned to ask the Bush administration ″to use every means possible at their command to bring the Jews out,″ Reich added.

The sense of urgency was pointed up by a government waiver of the usual ban on Friday evening and Saturday flights, the Jewish sabbath. Israel’s national carrier El Al was ordered to use every plane available to ferry the Jews from Eastern Europe.

Simcha Dinitz, chairman of the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency that handles immigrant transportation, said the rate was expected to increase to a regular influx of 1,500 Soviets daily.

Officials expect more than 30,000 Soviets in December, bringing this year’s immigration total to 200,000. That includes all Jewish immigrants. Israel expects about 1 million Soviets by the end of 1992.

Uri Gordon, chief of the Jewish Agency’s Immigration Department, urged the government to declare a state of emergency.

″We witness a real drama of a people in migration. But we should remember we will be tested by absorption. We have to declare a state of emergency in the country and create a new set of priorities,″ Gordon said.

″We should immediately freeze housing prices and each one in the Israeli society personally has to help. ... The government alone won’t solve the problem.″

In the Negev desert town of Beersheba, where thousands of Soviets have settled, eight new immigrant families raised a tent camp in the southern town of Beersheba to dramatize the housing crunch.

″The allowance they receive is not enough to rent an apartment,″ protest spokesman Ilya Schneider said. He said a two-bedroom apartment in the least expensive Beersheba neighborhood costs $400 a month.

An immigrant family of three receives $9,000 a year in government allowance to cover rent, food, clothing, education and transportation expenses.

″There are cases of four, five families renting one apartment, and this leads to problems ... arguments and even fist fights,″ Schneider said.

Beersheba city officials said protesters refused to sign rent contracts, fearing they will run out of money and have no place to live.

Israelis in Beersheba’s well-to-do Neve Noy area demonstrated to protest government plans to set up 7,000 mobile homes for immigrants near their neighborhood.

The housing crisis has been made worse by slow building starts. Work has begun on only about 17,000 of 45,000 housing units planned to be started in 1990, officials report.

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