This week we present you a guest blog by Michael Newman (Chief Executive at The Association of Jewish Refugees) and Adam Isaacs (Campaigns & Communications, The Jewish Council for Racial Equality):
“I beg to move, that this House notes with profound concern the deplorable treatment suffered by certain racial, religious and political minorities [in Europe], and, in view of the growing gravity of the refugee problem would welcome an immediate concerted effort amongst the nations, including the United States of America, to secure a common policy.”
Although the circumstances surrounding the current refugee crisis are notably different to the persecution the Jewish people of Europe endured under the Nazis before and during the Holocaust, the words of British Parliamentarian Philip Noel Baker echo loudly from the debate he instigated in Parliament in November 1938 in response to the barbarism of Kristallnacht.
The debate in Parliament led to the creation of the Kindertransport, which saved the lives of some 10,000 children, many of whom have today been urging the British government to intervene to offer sanctuary to the youngest and most vulnerable victims of war.
The persecution and displacement of people – regardless of their ethnicity or religion, and because of them – weighs heavily with those who similarly endured oppression.
As Chairman of The Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR)-Kindertransport wrote in a letter to former UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, last May:
“The echoes of the past haunt many of my fellow Kinder and I whose fate similarly rested with members of the British Parliament and I feel it is incumbent on us to once again demonstrate our compassion and human-kindness to provide sanctuary to those in need.”
Just as at Evian in 1938, today the world seemingly wrings its hands while a tyrant pursues their ideological aims. But equally it has brought a response from the UK Jewish community.
The Support Refugees website was borne against the backdrop of a refugee situation reaching crisis point. As the media and politicians turned their back on the biggest displacement of human beings since WWII, at a Jewish Social Action Forum, the idea to start a project for the Jewish community to support refugees was kindled.
Developed by JCORE – The Jewish Council For Racial Equality, together with the West London Synagogue and JLGB, Support Refugees became a one-stop resource for the Jewish community on how to volunteer and donate to organisations providing direct support to refugees and asylum seekers throughout Europe.
Updating volunteering opportunities, pointing people towards drop-in centres and publishing monthly newsletters, Support Refugees grew hugely in a constituency keen to engage in social action. It was during this period, that the tragic image of Syrian Toddler Aylan Kurdi washed up on a beach hit the front pages and news channels.
Immediately the bubble burst. David Cameron launched the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme, to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees over five years; the Dubs Amendment to the Immigration Act – proposed by Kindertransport survivor Lord Dubs, to be a modern form of the Kindertransport, passed through parliament; and the Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme to rescue 3,000 children with their families from conflict areas in North Africa was approved. Attitudes were starting to shift, and the Jewish community was at the forefront of it all campaigning tirelessly to give back decades after the Kindertransport saved countless Jewish lives.
In just over a year, Support Refugees became a leading hub of direction for the Jewish community and wider world to help refugees in the UK, Northern France and around wider Europe. Nearly 200,000 pages have been viewed by over 90,000 individual visitors. 15,000 visited the Support Refugees website in November 2016 to find out what was happening in Calais, as the camp was undergoing its evacuation and demolition.
Our challenge going forward is to sustain interest, both from Jewish and wider communities in supporting refugees. Attitudes towards refugees are hardening, no doubt due to narratives of immigration in the EU referendum campaign and the American Presidential election. Whilst pictures of dying toddlers are not in our front pages anymore, tens of people are dying in the Mediterranean every day for the chance of safe life in Europe – with five thousand dead or missing in 2016 alone.
Fewer people are seeking out ways to Support Refugees. Since the demolition of Calais refugee camp, Support Refugees is being visited less frequently. Is this because Calais was a symbol on our doorstep of the refugee crisis? Do people feel we have done enough? Are Greece, Italy, Serbia and Albania too far away for us to care?
We need to continue to run effective campaigns to alter the narrative about refugees in Britain, and to bring attention to the refugee crisis in Greece to the forefront of British thought. Bringing Greece closer to Britain should be a priority for us in 2017. It is worth remembering, that as we honour the impact of the Kindertransport today, that the 10,000 saved by the Kindertransport could easily have been 20,000 or 50,000 if attitudes towards immigration were more receptive. We owe so much to those who those who saved so many of us, now is our chance to give something back. We should all do what we can to help those who need it.
Support Refugees is run by JCORE on behalf of the UK Jewish community. Sign up to the Support Refugees newsletter to find out how you can get involved.
Michael Newman, Chief Executive, The Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR) and Adam Isaacs, Campaigns & Communications, The Jewish Council for Racial Equality.