Jour­ney to help the aban­doned


LAST WEEK, le­gal his­tory was made. On Wed­nes­day, in the no­to­ri­ous Calais Jun­gle, I was for­tu­nate enough to wit­ness it. I met a young boy, one of four refugees — three chil­dren and a young adult with men­tal health prob­lems — who were hav­ing their cases heard in a UK court, lawyers ar­gu­ing over the boy’s fate at the very mo­ment we spoke.

“Where are you from,” the boy asked me. “Eng­land,” I replied. His re­sponse, full of sad­ness, and just a hint of envy: “you’re go­ing home to­day aren’t you?” At the time, nei­ther of us knew that so was he.

A rep­re­sen­ta­tive of cam­paign­ing or­gan­i­sa­tion Cit­i­zens UK, named Laura, whom I met only on Wed­nes­day, was the first to hear the news: “They’ll be ar­riv­ing in King’s Cross to­mor­row,” she an­nounced.

It was as­tound­ing. I was moved to tears wit­ness­ing the raw emo­tions of vol­un­teers who had achieved the ul­ti­mate out­come for the vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple they work with. The UK courts had de­cided that four refugees in Calais, three of whom are mi­nors, should, with­out de­lay, be re­united with fam­ily mem­bers in the UK.

Laura had seen th­ese chil­dren and vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple reg­u­larly for al­most a year. She tem­po­rar­ily re­sides in the town of Calais and has built out­stand­ing re­la­tion­ships with in­hab­i­tants of the camp it­self.

Her own tears were those of re­newed hope as well as a hu­man re­sponse to hear­ing good news about those who mat­ter to you.

I am proud that the Jewish com­mu­nity has found a com­mon cause and a group of peo­ple who mat­ter to us. When Jews look across the Chan­nel, we see our­selves.

Last week, I saw Tarek, a 17-year-old boy, who had been alone in Calais for four months. Tarek saw his cousin killed in front of him, one of more than 250,000 re­port­edly killed in the bloody con­flict in Syria.

Tarek has not just been forced fromhishome­town,andthen­from Da­m­as­cus. His fam­ily left Le­banon be­cause of the racism they faced as Syr­ian refugees. Their time in Turkey­wasend­ed­when­the­si­t­u­a­tion be­came un­sus­tain­able, with no work op­por­tu­ni­ties. His mother, who was preg­nant, man­aged to get to the UK.

Tarek, now on his own, is not one of the lucky ones to have been re­united with fam­ily in the past few days.

Bri­tish Jews, and the coun­try as a whole, are on our own jour­ney. We’re redis­cov­er­ing our cam­paign­ing drive, our abil­ity to turn our con­cerns into ac­tion, our abil­ity to part­ner God in chang­ing the world. This mat­ters to us.

For in­stance, in Septem­ber, Re­form Ju­daism held a meet­ing on the refugee cri­sis. An­nounced on the Fri­day, for a Mon­day gath­er­ing, we had no idea how big the room would need to be. De­spite such short no­tice, al­most 90 peo­ple at­tended.

For me, this set the tone for what has been an out­stand­ing few months of cam­paign­ing work. Huge credit must go to Cit­i­zens UK for lead­ing much of this, and lay­ing the path to the suc­cess­ful out­come in the courts last Wed­nes­day. Rabbi Rich and I sit on the Na­tional Refugee Wel­come Board. Rabbi Mirvis re­cently vis­ited a refugee camp in Mace­do­nia with World Jewish Re­lief, which has just launched a pro­ject help­ing newly ar­rived refugees find em­ploy­ment in the UK

Of­ten, when we don’t sense in­stant suc­cess, we grow tired. We had the up­surge of me­dia cov­er­age when Alan Kurdi’s body was so trag­i­cally washed up on a Turk­ish beach. In­ter­est spiked, the Prime Min­is­ter com­mit­ted to tak­ing in 20,000 refugees. And then the cri­sis faded from our screens again.

Fi­ras, from Da­m­as­cus, who I also met in Calais, is a tal­ented trans­la­tor. He sat shiv­er­ing with cold, telling us other peo­ple’s sto­ries. His own was com­pelling, too. “You make me just a refugee,” he said “I’m not a refugee. I’m a telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions en­gi­neer.” Fi­ras knows Euro­peans are con­cerned about ter­ror­ism: “Take what­ever you want from me. Fin­ger­prints, pho­tos; ask me about my ex­pe­ri­ence. Ask me any­thing.”

It’s hear­ing th­ese sto­ries that gal­vanises us to act on our val­ues. Bring­ing about change is not a com­pe­ti­tion to shout the loud­est. It’s about learn­ing the strong­est ar­gu­ments and per­sis­tently re­mind­ing our­selves and all of Bri­tain of the hu­man­ity of the cri­sis in Calais and be­yond. Hear­ing Fi­ras talk so con­struc­tively about his plight re­minds us not only of the des­per­a­tion of the sit­u­a­tion, but of the preva­lence of so­lu­tions.

There is now a push for a pri­vate spon­sor­ship scheme, that the Re­form, Lib­eral and Ma­sorti move­ments are all sup­port­ing. In­di­vid­u­als and com­mu­ni­ties can raise money to spon­sor an in­di­vid­ual or a fam­ily. In Canada, such a scheme has worked suc­cess­fully for years.

With sug­ges­tions that David Camero­nis­now­con­sid­er­ing­tak­ing in un­ac­com­pa­nied refugee chil­dren from around Europe, we are again see­ing the fruits of val­ues-based, com­mit­ted cam­paign­ing, from across Bri­tain, and across the Jewish com­mu­nity.

The evening af­ter I re­turned from Calais, I stood at Kings Cross with hun­dreds of other well-wish­ers, keen to wel­come th­ese four young refugees to the UK. The event was a poignant and rare cel­e­bra­tion — we all knew how much more work there still is to do. But ev­ery­one had that bub­ble of ex­cite­ment that told them this wouldn’t be the last time they’d be able to cel­e­brate. To pro­tect in­di­vid­u­als, the names of all refugees men­tioned have been changed

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