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Israel sees ‘dramatic’ increase in Iranians asking for help emigrating

Even before pandemic, thousands of Iranians reached out through Israeli government’s social media accounts, diplomats say, but stress Jerusalem cannot offer more than information

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

A woman wearing a protective face mask and gloves to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus carries her purchases as she leaves a store which sells dates, a favorite fruit for the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, in Tehran on April 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
A woman wearing a protective face mask and gloves to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus carries her purchases as she leaves a store which sells dates, a favorite fruit for the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, in Tehran on April 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

The number of Iranians seeking help from Israel, including many who would like to emigrate to the Jewish State, has significantly increased amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem said Tuesday.

Even before the current health crisis, which has hit the Islamic Republic especially hard, thousands of Iranians reached out to the Israeli government via its various social media accounts per month, according to Yiftah Curiel, who heads the Foreign Ministry’s department for digital diplomacy.

“They’re asking for all kinds of assistance: medical advice, information about immigration to Israel or other countries; they want to know how to make business or simply want to tell us that they hope that their country will one day establish diplomatic relations with us,” he told The Times of Israel Tuesday.

“Since the coronavirus started, the number of Iranians who get in touch with us has dramatically increased,” he added.

The Iranians reaching out are not necessarily Iranian Jews, who can claim Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return, but include dissidents, job-seekers and others seeking to escape the regime.

Iran has been one of the worst-hit countries by the coronavirus pandemic, recording thousands of deaths, and has also been hit with punishing sanctions over its nuclear program that have taken a toll on the economy. Anger against the regime has boiled over into large-scale protests on more than one occasion in the past year.

One dissident recently asked for asylum, according to Ynet, which first reported about the increase in Iranians reaching out to Israel.

“I too am often put in jail for political reasons and I would like to escape this slow death. Israel is my dream,” he wrote in a message to Jerusalem.

“I had been answering each and every request personally but have not been able to keep up recently. We have no way of helping these people,” Sharona Avginsaz, who runs the Foreign Ministry’s Persian social media accounts. There has been a constant increase in requests from Iranians who would like to move to Israel, she told Ynet.

While the ministry is happy to engage with well-wishing Iranians online, it does not offer concrete help to those who want to come and live in Israel, or ask for help in emigrating to a third country, Curiel said.

“We offer information. We can’t do more than that.”

The Foreign Ministry runs social media accounts in six languages (English, Hebrew, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, Persian) on five different platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, YouTube), according to Curiel. The ministry’s Persian Twitter channel has 220,000 followers; its Instagram account has nearly half a million.

“Our ministry’s social media platforms allow us to be in direct contact with millions from across the region, among them many from Iran. The Iranian people are not our enemies. They are first and foremost immediate victims of the radical Ayatollah regime,” Foreign Ministry director-general Yuval Rotem said Tuesday.

“Instead of taking care of its own people, the Iranian regime is still putting unlimited efforts in obtaining illegal nuclear weapons, is supporting terror across the globe and is promoting subversive activities throughout the Middle East.”

As of this week more than 124,200 Iranian have contracted the coronavirus, leading to 7,100 deaths.

A person in protective clothing walks through a temporary 2,000-bed hospital for COVID-19 coronavirus patients set up by the Iranian army at the international exhibition center in northern Tehran, Iran, on Thursday, March 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

While the Iranian regime considers Israel a sworn enemy, Israeli and Iranian people enjoyed friendly relations before the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Western officials say thousands of Iranians seek asylum status each year, though the true number is unknown because many of them hide their country of origin.

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