Thursday, May 12, 2005

Ethiopian Government Kicks Out Key US Jewish Aid Group

In a move likely to further complicate the Ethiopian aliya effort, Ethiopia's government has decided to bar the key US Jewish aid group serving the Falash Mura population there from operating in the country, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

An official at Ethiopia's Justice Ministry confirmed that the government has decided to deny NGO status to the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry (NACOEJ), which operates aid compounds in the cities of Addis Ababa and Gondar that provide schooling, some employment and food for about 15,000 Ethiopians awaiting aliya there.

The smaller of the two compounds, in Addis Ababa, has been closed since last fall following a dispute between NACOEJ and some of its local employees that prompted government investigators to temporarily jail some community members and closely scrutinize the group's operations.

Now, the government has ordered the community in Addis Ababa not to allow any NACOEJ programs to operate there.

"NACOEJ is not in action now in Addis," an Ethiopian government official said.

This latest development raises questions not only about the welfare of the Falash Mura population that is dependent on NACOEJ's aid programs, but also about the terms of a deal reached in January under which the Jewish Agency would take control of the aid compounds in exchange for NACOEJ's agreement to leave Ethiopia permanently and end its advocacy for mass Ethiopian aliya.

That agreement is supposed to take effect three months after Israel begins doubling the current rate of Ethiopian aliya to 600 persons per month –a move expected sometime this summer.

NACOEJ refused to respond to any questions for this story about the group's operations in Ethiopia, and NACOEJ officials have not told Israeli and American aid officials involved in managing the Ethiopian aliya that its petition for NGO status was denied by the Ethiopian government. Instead, participants in a conference call earlier this week among the Jewish Agency, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the United Jewish Communities federation umbrella group, which has pledged to help bankroll the Ethiopian aliya, were left with the impression that NACOEJ's petition for NGO status was being approved, sources told the Post.

Jerusalem Post

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