Refugees on their bikes

By Jennifer Lipman, August 25, 2011

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.

Transport is a major difficulty for asylum seekers

"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?

Last updated: 12:57pm, August 25 2011