Absorbing lessons

Conference participants learned about the tools Israel has developed to promote integration, and they were very impressed with the way Israel invests in their human potential.Twenty six representatives from 14 diverse mostly “developing” countries gathered in Jerusalem recently to learn …

Conference participants learned about the tools Israel has developed to promote integration, and they were very impressed with the way Israel invests in their human potential.Twenty six representatives from 14 diverse mostly “developing” countries gathered in Jerusalem recently to learn about the Israeli experience in immigrant absorption.

The seminar, the first of its kind, was devised to confer on the world the vast experience Israel has garnered over the years in dealing with new immigrants. The conference was a cooperative venture of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), which for years has been engaged in research and formulating aid plans for absorption policy, and the Center for International Cooperation at the Foreign Ministry (known by the Hebrew acronym, Mashav), which deals with exporting Israeli civil knowledge to developing counties.

Rebecca Bardach, the director of JDC’s Center for Migration and Integration, which ran the seminar said the two week long event was packed with a minimum of theoretical discussions, and visits to as many projects from the field as possible.

“The conference focued on sharing Israel’s expertise in the area of integration. But countries were also interested in the issue of brain drain and the return migration process. They learned about the tools Israel has developed to promote integration, and they were very impressed with the way Israel invests in integration of immigrants and in their human potential,” Bardach told ISRAEL21c.

The guests met with representatives from Mesila, the Center for Assistance and Information for the Foreign Community in Tel Aviv, that helps foreign workers in the city, they visited a Hebrew ulpan (language center), and met with people from the Absorption Ministry and MATI (Hebrew acronym for the Center for Encouraging Initiatives), a project that helps new small businesses. Each of the participants was asked to indicate an absorption project that was suited to his country and was interesting in itself. Many of them chose MATI.

Arnon Mantver, the chief executive officer of JDC-Israel, explained that the programs were relevant to the participants despite the fact that Israel is a developed Western country that focuses on the absorption of immigrants, whereas these developing countries know mostly negative migration – of people leaving for Western countries.

“First of all, there was a large presence at the seminar of representatives from Eastern Europe, where there definitely is a situation of absorbing many immigrants, who see these countries as an entryway to Europe as a whole. The rules for joining the EU also demand of these states a certain standard in the area of immigration, such as resources and humanitarian treatment, and in this matter the instruction they were given is relevant, at least in the model for absorbing immigrants. Beyond that, all of the participating countries are dealing with a problem of citizens who have left them, for the most part the most talented of them, and our experience in these areas is relevant to them,” he told Ha’aretz.

Celia Victoria, a legal advisor at the Immigration Ministry of El Salvador said she was particularly impressed by the relations between Israel and the Diaspora: “You are investing a special effort in this, and the results are evident. We don’t have anyone who nurtures the connection with a citizen who has left the country, and if he helps the country it is only at his own initiative and because he wants to,” she said.

Victoria, was moved by the ceremony for greeting new immigrants at Ben-Gurion
International Airport. “It is moving to see how they are welcomed so beautifully from the first moment. It gives a feeling that the state is really working hard so that people feel at home here,” she told Ha’aretz.

Jorge Peraza-Breedy, a representative of the Center for International Migration in Central America who lives in Costa Rica, was impressed by “the attention and resources that are given here to the integration of the immigrants into the population.”

When he heard that in Israel there is, nonetheless, a sense that integration is not good enough, he even took the trouble to “console” the critics with his own experience.

“First of all, for integration to succeed, it’s important that those who are being integrated also invest effort in it. It is also impossible to evaluate the success in the short term. Most of the new immigrants who complain, like the immigrants from Russia and Ethiopia, arrived here only a relatively short time ago and it can’t be expected that their integration will be so rapid. Anyway, in the end it is necessary to realize that in every society there are different levels of participation and the sense of belonging,” he told Ha’aretz.

According to the JDC’s Bardach, more conferences are planned for the future, and the rewards of this conference are just beginning to be reaped.

“The participants walked away with many practical tools. I’ve already been in touch with many of them who have told me they’d developed project ideas they’re running by their directors. They want to move ahead and continue consultations with us.”