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President Reuven Rivlin greets new immigrants / Courtesy

More than 30,000 people immigrated to Israel last year, but the first six months of 2016 have seen a 20% decline in the number of new immigrants, according to a report revealed during Monday’s meeting of the Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs. At this point it is believed that the decline is due to absorption problems related to insufficient budgets, as well as the emergence of immigration destinations that are more appealing than Israel.

“Last year’s wave of Aliyah has come to a halt due to lack of coordination, clumsiness and negligence,” Committee Chairman MK Avraham Neguise (Likud) said during the special meeting on the preparations of local authorities and government ministries to absorb immigrants.

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“A window of opportunity has opened for us, and it is our duty to take advantage of it and not have any regrets once it closes,” Neguise added. He called on the Interior Ministry to update the list of Israeli cities which are eligible for benefits for the absorption of immigrants. He suggested the list had not been updated in decades.

The Finance Ministry’s representative at the meeting said both the Finance and Interior ministries are currently holding negotiations regarding the status of immigrant cities. She said the Knesset Finance Committee, not the Finance Ministry, was to blame for the delay in the allocation of government funds to the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption. Haviv Katzav, the Ministry’s Director General, warned that numerous plans may be put on hold due to the delay in the transfer of funds.

Avi Ben-Hamo, Director General of the Netanya Municipality, said 67,000 immigrants live in the city, which has a total population of 235,000. “Our city has the highest concentration of immigrants from Ethiopia, in addition to many immigrants from France and the Commonwealth of Independent States,” he said, adding that in 2015 Netanya absorbed the third largest number of immigrants, yet it is still not categorized as an “immigrant city.”

“[Neighboring] Ramat Hasharon continues to be defined as an immigrant city despite the fact that not even one immigrant has settled there in years,” Ben-Hamo said. “In protest, our services for olim will be not be available in the next few months due to insufficient funding from the government.”

MK Mordhay Yogev (HaBayit HaYehudi) argued that this year’s drop in immigration to Israel stems solely from absorption problems. He called on the Prime Minister’s Office to make certain that medical degrees obtained abroad are recognized in Israel and that lone soldiers are cared for. Yogev also urged the government to redefine immigrant cities.

Yehuda Scharf, Director of Aliyah and Absorption at the Jewish Agency, warned that without proper government funding the situation would become worse. “Currently, French nationals who are looking to emigrate have many options, so if we do not offer them at least what other countries are offering – we’ll be facing stiff competition,” he said.

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