Interior minister predicts tens of thousands of new immigrants from Ukraine, Russia

Ayelet Shaked orders 3-month suspension of need for a police background check on those fleeing the conflict, says wave of arrivals will be sent to boost Negev communities

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks at a conference of the Israeli newspaper Makor Rishon at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, February 21, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks at a conference of the Israeli newspaper Makor Rishon at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, February 21, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said Israel believes a huge number of Jewish refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine could immigrate to Israel and instructed her office on Thursday to allow them to move to Israel without the need for a police background check.

“We think tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of immigrants will arrive from Russia, Ukraine, and former Soviet states,” Shaked said Thursday during a conference with local council leaders at the Golan Regional Council.

The interior minister said that next month the government will make a decision to set up seven to 12 new communities in the southern Negev region of the country.

Shaked said the new communities will bolster the Negev and will be necessary to absorb the expected wave of new immigrants.

Noting that there is a national housing crisis, she asked: “What will happen when new immigrants reach us from Ukraine and Russia?”

“Even though we’re at full throttle now, we’ll need [to build] even more [homes]” requiring “aggressive and rapid” construction to accommodate the mass arrivals, she said.

An airport security officer watches as arriving passengers inbound from Kyiv walk with their luggage at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport on February 13, 2022. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Shaked later tweeted that she had ordered a three-month suspension on the requirement for a notarized police background check for immigrants from Russia and Ukraine to ease their immigration to Israel.

“Whoever wants to immigrate to Israel can do it fast,” she wrote.

The Ministerial Committee for Immigration and Absorption is slated to hold a meeting about the situation in Ukraine on Monday, Army Radio reported.

Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai told Army Radio on Thursday that so far 350 Ukrainians have reached Israel, six of whom were rejected due to some aspect of their past.

He said the government needs to formulate a proper policy “in order to bring in those people without relatives or friends in Israel as well.”

Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai attends the Jewish People’s Lobby, at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on November 15, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Jewish Agency has received thousands of inquiries from Ukrainian citizens in recent days about immigrating to Israel after Russia invaded Ukraine last week, setting off a conflict that has cost at least hundreds of lives, likely thousands.

The Jewish Agency, a semi-governmental body that is responsible for encouraging and overseeing immigration to Israel, or aliyah, has been working to facilitate the expected wave of migration from Ukraine to Israel in light of the Russian offensive, including setting up emergency hotlines to answer questions about the immigration process.

Ukraine has about 43,300 people who self-identify as Jews and about 200,000 eligible to immigrate to Israel under its Law of Return for Jews and their relatives, according to a 2020 demographic study of European Jewry.

Shortly before Russia’s invasion, dozens of new immigrants from Ukraine arrived in Israel.

Some 300 new Jewish immigrants who had fled from Ukraine are scheduled to reach Israel on Sunday.

According to Israel’s Law of Return, Jews and their children, grandchildren, and spouses are eligible for citizenship.

Israel tried to send back 14 Ukrainian immigrants saying they were not eligible to enter under the Law of Return, Channel 12 News reported Monday.

Israel has rarely granted refugee status to non-Jews in the past, and has not granted it to thousands of asylum seekers from Africa who arrived in the mid to late 2000s.

Tens of thousands of Ukrainian asylum-seekers came to Israel following the 2014 war with Russia. Most came as tourists and tried to stay as refugees, but few were actually granted refugee status.

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