On Wednesday 8th October, at the start of the Jewish Festival of Succot at Bet Tikvah Synagogue in Ilford, senior faith leaders Rabbi Danny Rich, Chief Executive of Liberal Judaism, Imam Mohamed Fahim (South Woodford Mosque), Father Brian McGrath (Saint Thomas of Canterbury), Rabbi David Hulbert (Bet Tikvah Synagogue, Ilford) and Iris Radulin, a refugee leader from Albanian community organization Shpresa (‘Hope’ in English), joined members of national community organising charity, Citizens UK, to call upon the Leader of Redbridge Council, Jas Athwal, to resettle a small number of vulnerable refugees living in UN camps near war-zones such as Syria and Iraq. Currently the UK has resettled fewer than 20 refugee families from Syria since the start of the crisis.
This action is part of a Citizens UK campaign held during Succot, during which time diverse leaders of faith and no faith will be standing in traditional Succot temporary shelters to remember the refugee experience of their ancestors as a means of highlighting the plight that refugees face today. The Succot events will all include a request to local authorities to help double the number of refugees that the UK currently admits.
The campaign hopes to persuade 15 local authorities to offer sanctuary to 50 people annually, which would increase the number of refugees resettled in the UK from just 750 to 1,500. Local authorities that agree will receive financial support from a UN refugee resettlement scheme funded by the UK government and the EU.
Rabbi Danny Rich said:
“I pledge that Liberal Judaism’s synagogues will build temporary dwellings during the Jewish festival of ‘Succot’ and invite our Christian and Muslim brothers and sisters in to join us, as part of our work to ask our local councils to resettle refugee families in our neighbourhoods.”
In response to a question by Father Brian McGrath about whether he would meet with Redbridge Citizens to seriously discuss resettlement of refugee families in the next month, Cllr Athwal said:
“I want to look at the technical detail of what resettlement actually involves. I am pleased to meet with you to discuss this issue. Armed with this knowledge, we can come forward with something positive so that we can go away having helped some families to make their lives better.”
The call to help follows an urgent request by the UN for safe countries to resettle refugees and relieve the pressure on Syria and Iraq’s neighbouring countries that are supporting 2.3 million refugees. The UK is the sixth richest country in the world, yet has resettled fewer than 20 refugee families from Syria since the start of the crisis – not enough people to fill a single-decker bus. In contrast, Germany has committed to settle 10,000 Syrian refugees.
Last week, the Obama administration announced it would greatly increase the number of Syrian refugees approved for permanent resettlement in the United States next year. The State Department is reviewing more than 4,000 applications.
Angela Meyler, Citizens UK member, St Thomas of Canterbury Catholic Church, Redbridge, said:
“Citizens UK represents a variety of institutions from across civil society, including churches, synagogues and mosques. Together we believe that we can make a difference. This isn’t about an open door immigration policy; it’s about helping some of the most vulnerable refugees and supporting them to safety here in the UK.”
Succot has marked the start of the Citizens UK ‘Season of Sanctuary’ and will be followed by more events around Islamic New Year (24th Oct), and the Feast of St Nicholas (6th Dec) to continue to raise awareness of the plight of refugees and the opportunity local communities have to help.
For more information, and to arrange photographs, please call Daniel Mackintosh, Citizens UK Community Organiser in Redbridge on m: 074 549 71830 or Gillian Owen on m: 07876246150.
The Jewish Festival of Sukkot
Whilst many were turned away, 70,000 Jews found sanctuary in the UK during the 1930s.
During Succot Jewish communities are encouraged to remember when they were refugees during the Israelites’ 40 years wandering in the desert - vulnerable, subject to the elements and without permanent, safe homes. Whilst for most Jews the experience of being refugees is historical, on Succot Jewish communities are asked to remember the immense vulnerability that is still felt by so many in this world, and to do something about it. To this end, a tradition is to invite ushpizin, (Aramaic for guests) into our informal dwellings to eat together in community – to make room for the needy in our Succot ‘homes’.
Citizens UK works to develop the capacity and skills of socially and economically disadvantaged communities so that their members are better able to identify and help meet their own needs; improve their neighbourhood; and participate more fully in society.
In 2010 Citizens UK’s ‘Sanctuary Pledge’ ended child detention in the immigration system. The campaign was supported by the Church of England, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, the Methodist, Baptist and United Reformed Churches, The Muslim Council of Britain, the Jewish Council on Racial Equality, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Chief Rabbi.
The campaign culminated in an assembly of 2,500 people days before the 2010 General Election, where David Cameron, Nick Clegg and then Prime Minister Gordon Brown pledged to end child detention. Since then, 4000 children have escaped the trauma of being locked up for an immigration-related issue. In January 2014 the Government announced an amendment to the Immigration Bill to prohibit the detention of children. This enshrines in law the progress that the government has made since 2010 in ending the practice of locking up innocent children with their families in prison-like conditions.