OPINION: Time for us to raise our voices for the oppressed stranger

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OPINION: Time for us to raise our voices for the oppressed stranger

Our community should play a key role in calling on the government to enact comprehensive immigration reform, say newly-merged UK and US refugee charities HIAS+JCORE

Stop Rwanda, outside the Royal Courts of Justice. Pic: HIAS+JCORE
Stop Rwanda, outside the Royal Courts of Justice. Pic: HIAS+JCORE

There are now more than 100 million displaced people around the world – more than ever before. As this number has grown, so has the global Jewish voice to advance the rights of those forcibly displaced.

Last month, two organisations leading this call – HIAS and JCORE – joined together to deepen this work in the UK.

At a launch event at JW3, we also celebrated Dr Edie Friedman’s 46 years of incredible work at the helm of JCORE. And this union could not come at a more opportune time. Each organisation brings its long history of supporting refugees and asylum, which together will significantly enhance the UK Jewish response to issues of asylum, refugees, and racism.

HIAS, founded more than a hundred years ago as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, was established in New York to welcome Jews fleeing pogroms in Europe. For the next century, it worked to provide rescue to persecuted Jews from around the world.

Refugees seeking asylum.

Two decades ago, as the Jewish need for international protection diminished, HIAS expanded its mission to protect, empower, and support refugees of all faiths and backgrounds. It now operates across the US and in 23 other countries in Latin America, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. With a focus on the most vulnerable populations, HIAS staff provide legal protection, mental health support, gender-based violence prevention and response, and economic inclusion programming.

Last year, HIAS opened new offices in Moldova, Poland, and Romania, to step up its assistance to the many displaced by the war in Ukraine. In addition, new offices in Honduras and Guatemala will position the organization to provide services to a growing population of refugees and asylum seekers in Central America.

Jews of Iaşi being rounded up and arrested during the pogrom

Drawing on its Jewish values and history, HIAS provides vital services to refugees and asylum seekers around the world and advocates for their fundamental rights so they can rebuild their lives.

HIAS last had a presence in the UK just after the Second World War. So it is exciting to be back, joining with JCORE and Jewish communities across the country to fight against unjust asylum and refugee policies, and advance the rights of forcibly displaced populations and racial minorities, alike.

Sadly, the recent treatment of asylum seekers in the UK and US, bear many similarities. In both countries the legal right to claim protection from persecution is being rapidly degraded. In the US, Title 42 — the public health order that was invoked by the Trump administration at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020 and effectively stops most people from seeking asylum at the US– Mexico border – has been expanded by President Biden.

In addition to other migrant groups, the order now includes asylum seekers from Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua, making more people than ever susceptible to immediate expulsion to Mexico.

Rabbi David Mason

In the UK, the inhumane and illogical attempts to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, along with the Illegal Migration Bill – or as it has come to be called by those of us against it, the Refugee Ban Bill – is causing profound concern.

In both countries, the Jewish community can and should play a key role in calling on the government to enact comprehensive immigration reform and to create a functioning asylum system.

The Torah commands us 36 times – more than any other commandment – not to oppress the stranger. HIAS+JCORE will mobilise the UK Jewish community to support and advocate for refugees and asylum seekers. With our core values of Rachamim (Compassion), Arvut (Responsibility), Shlemut (Solidarity) and Gishur (Partnership), we will bring the Jewish voice to the table, to support refugees and fight racism.

We will also grow the practical support for refugees through initiatives such as our JUMP programme, which connects be-frienders from the Jewish community with those seeking to begin a new life in this country.

From this month JRAN (Joint Refugee Action Network) with its 20-plus refugee representative organisations is also becoming part of HIAS+JCORE, opening up tremendous opportunities for us to strengthen our work with refugees.

Over the next few months, we will set out our strategy across three key areas: activism, volunteering and education. There will be new opportunities for schools, youth groups, Jewish societies and synagogues to join in our work.

Uniquely, HIAS+JCORE will offer those in the UK Jewish community who want to make a difference, the opportunity to be part of a global Jewish movement for change.

Indeed, now is the time for all us to raise our voices even louder, to say that we will not allow what has so often happened to us, to be the experience of others today.

Visit hiasjcore.org to read about how you can play your part.

  • Rachel Levitan, Vice President, International Policy and Relations, HIAS Trustee, HIAS+JCORE
  • Isabel Burton, Senior Director of Community Engagement Programmes and Initiatives, HIAS Trustee, HIAS+JCORE
  • Rabbi David Mason, Executive Director, HIAS+JCORE


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