Refugees on their bikes

The Jewish Chronicle - - Community - BY JEN­NIFER LIPMAN Trans­port is a ma­jor dif­fi­culty for asy­lum seek­ers

IN A sprawl­ing me­trop­o­lis such as Lon­don, get­ting around can be dif­fi­cult — and par­tic­u­larly so for refugees and asy­lum seek­ers with­out their own trans­porta­tion.

To help rec­tify the prob­lem, Habonim’s so­cial ac­tion worker Jem Stein set up the Habo Bike project ear­lier this year, sup­ported by the Big Green Jewish cam­paign from the Jewish So­cial Ac­tion Fo­rum, UJIA and Jen­er­a­tion.

Mod­elled on a sim­i­lar scheme in Bris­tol, it in­volves ac­quir­ing aban­doned or dis­carded bikes, restor­ing them to road­wor­thy con­di­tion and do­nat­ing them to refugees. Bikes come from a va­ri­ety of sources. A batch was re­cently sourced from an Oxford col­lege un­der­tak­ing an an­nual clear-out.

Or­gan­is­ers are con­cen­trat­ing on build­ing up links with groups al­ready work­ing with refugees, in­clud­ing the New North Lon­don Drop In Cen­tre.

By 2012, Mr Stein hopes the Habonim team will have dis­trib­uted 100 bikes, with a hand­ful sold to en­sure the scheme can stay afloat.

“We are lit­er­ally match­ing sup­ply and de­mand,” he said. “One prob­lem asy­lum seek­ers face is get­ting around and mak­ing it to ap­point­ments. It’s a big ob­sta­cle, par­tic­u­larly if their ap­pli­ca­tion for asy­lum is re­jected and they have lost their stipend. A ridicu­lous amount of bikes are just thrown on the scrap heap ev­ery year. And ev­ery­one I men­tion it to says: ‘Oh, I have a bike that I haven’t used for 10 years.’

“As a Jewish project it is fan­tas­tic,” Mr Stein added. “We try and ed­u­cate about Jewish val­ues and her­itage in Habonim and our ex­pe­ri­ence his­tor­i­cally has been as refugees.”

De­spite be­ing in the early stages of de­vel­op­ment, Habo Bike was a run­ner-up in the Big Green Jewish’s re­cent awards. The judges praised the ven­ture for find­ing a way to pro­vide “af­ford­able and sus­tain­able trans­port for those most in need”.

“We’re start­ing with Lon­don, where there are lots of des­ti­tute asy­lum seek­ers and lots of aban­doned bikes,” Mr Stein pointed out. “But hope­fully one day it can go na­tion­wide. One step at a time.” Or should that be one wheel at a time?

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