Lambeth faith leaders, Rabbi Janet Darley, Pastor Suzette Ashley and Imam Abdulkadir Mohammed, with the support of their congregations and local communities, joined together at Windrush Square, on 9th October during the Jewish festival of Sukkot, to call upon Lambeth Council to offer resettlement to a small number of vulnerable refugees living in UN camps near war-zones such as Syria and Iraq.
In marking Jewish festival of Sukkot, the faith leaders took part in the traditional practice of building a temporary shelter, remembering the refugee experience of their ancestors and inviting others to share in the sanctuary of the shelter. The shelter was built in Windrush Square, overlooking Lambeth Town Hall.
The local faith leaders are working with Lambeth Citizens, part of national community organising charity, Citizens UK, to encourage local authorities to help double the number of refugees that the UK currently admits.
“It’s fantastic to see Lambeth civil society and faith leaders speaking with one voice on such an important issue” said Nick Jones from South London Liberal Synagogue. “we can and should do more for refugees in camps across the world and that’s why we’re so keen to be part of this campaign” he added.
The campaign hopes to persuade 15 local authorities, including Lambeth Council, to offer sanctuary to 50 people annually, which would double 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 Janet from South London Liberal Synagogue said:
“It was a pleasure to gather with our neighbours, and the wider Lambeth community and share with them the important traditions of Sukkot.
“United, we are offering our support to Lambeth Council as we ask them to do the right thing and help a small number of people who are in the most desperate of situations through no fault of their own. Together we promise to aid and welcome the refugees.
“The UK has a proud tradition of hospitality and sanctuary and we believe Lambeth can lead the way in reviving this tradition by being one of the first communities to offer refuge to the most needy.”
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.
Pastor Suzette Ashley from Taste of Glory Apostolic Ministries church pointed out the significance of the action taking place in Windrush Square saying:
“this square was named after the boat that first brought the people over from the Caribbean in 1948. It’s important that we uphold Lambeth’s tradition of welcoming those in need and seeking a better life and show love and compassion to people in refugee camps.”
The action was also attended by Lambeth Council cabinet member for housing Cllr Matthew Bennett and Cllr Saleha Jaffer. Cllr Bennett said that
“it’s an absolute travesty that the UK hasn’t done more for Syrian Refugees” and agreed to arrange a meeting with Lambeth Citizens and leader of the council Cllr Lib Peck to discuss how Lambeth could contribute.
Lianna Etkind, local resident and Lambeth Citizens member said:
“like most British Jews i'm descended from immigrants, my grandfather arrived here fleeing Nazi Germany. Britain gave him sanctuary then; now we need to do the same for those fleeing Syria”
She added “Lambeth Citizens represents a variety of institutions from across the borough, including churches, schools, 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 Lambeth.
Sukkot marks 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 please contact James Asfa, Citizens UK community organiser at James.Asfa@londoncitizens.org.uk
Follow South London Citizens on Twitter @SLondonCitizens
Jewish festival of sukkot
Whilst many were turned away, 70,000 Jews found sanctuary in the UK during the 1930s.
During Sukkot Jewish communites 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 Sukkot 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 Sukkot ‘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.