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Jews Leaving Soviet Union

August 31, 1987

A Times article (Part I, Aug. 19) quoting Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Anatoly Adamishin as reporting that 15,000 people have left the Soviet Union in the first seven months of 1987.

As is often the case when dealing with human rights issues, there may be a disparity between what Soviet officials tell Western journalists, and actual fact.

In this instance, our figures indicate that approximately 9,400 Jews, Armenians and ethnic Germans (the three national groups that account for most of the emigration) left the Soviet Union between Jan. 1-July 31, 1987.

This is especially poignant as far as Jewish emigration is concerned, for while just over 3,000 Jews left in the first seven months of this year, an estimated 380,000 have expressed a desire to emigrate. At the current rate the process would take decades even if some Jews, who have been waiting for over 10 years, might choose not to leave.

Furthermore, the claim that only one in 10 applicants has been refused is misleading. Recent regulations have made it difficult and nearly impossible for Jews to apply and even become a measured statistic.

These obstacles include a narrow definition in which family members may invite a Soviet citizen to leave for purposes of family reunification, a critical issue since emigration is not considered a right but a privilege based on special circumstances such as family ties.

A more stringent obstacle is that based on so-called "regime considerations," or reasons of state secrecy, in a society where virtually everything is a secret and where the vague notion of "regime considerations" could encompass any decision by any authority.

If you cannot apply you cannot become a deniable statistic. You are, essentially, nonexistent as far as emigration data is concerned.

It is true that the Soviet Union is trying to improve its human rights image. It is also true that there has been a welcome, albeit very modest, increase in emigration. The release of overstated statistics only further damages Soviet credibility on the crucial issue of human rights.

A substantial change in performance, and not press conferences, is required if we are to believe that the Soviet government is willing to meet its human rights obligations as spelled out in the Helsinki Accords and other international agreements to which it is a signatory.


Executive Director

National Conference

on Soviet Jewry

New York

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