We cannot stand by while refugees suffer, says charity

Rabbi David Mason tells supporters of Hias+JCore that it will campaign for fairer asylum system


Hias+Jcore deputy director Amos Schonfield with Josh Stein, a volunteer with the Jump scheme to befriend young asylum-seekers

The head of a Jewish charity that supports refugees has warned against making migration a politically divisive issue..

Rabbi David Mason, executive director of Hias+Jcore, rallied supporters at a meeting in London this week behind its message that Britain should be a more welcoming place for those displaced from other countries.

“While politicians use migration and asylum as a politically divisive issue, hate will grow and fester,” he said.

“At the same time as Brexit and its toxicity for asylum moves into the distance, public attitudes are turning more sympathetic,” he added.” If we can wrench asylum out of high politics and into the sphere of solutions, it will be because we understand the humanity and the pain of the individual seeking asylum.”

He went on, “With our work towards a fairer and more compassionate policy environment for refugees, we will push also for a more welcoming United Kingdom — a UK that does not ‘other’ those seeking asylum, a UK that is less racist, a UK that is more cohesive and brings communities together.”

Rabbi Mason, who was previously minister of Muswell Hill United Synagogue, became head of the charity a year ago after the Jewish Council for Racial Equality joined forces with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society from the USA.

“While we want an asylum system that is ordered and fair, it must also be one built on compassion,” he said. “Isn’t that what many of our grandparents or great-grandparents wanted when they came here from Russia or Germany or elsewhere?”

Citing the Torah’s command to love the stranger, he said, “Our very founding story was the story of asylum and being persecuted for that. We as a people cannot stand by while refugees suffer today.”

Conditions for asylum-seekers had deteriorated in the UK in recent years — “detention, poverty, mental health crises, safeguarding neglect, homelessness. Above all, we are dehumanising people who need our protection.”

Hias+Jcore aimed to become a “go-to voice” for politicians and decision-makers, while mobilising support from synagogues and Jewish organisations for asylum-seekers and refugees, he said.

Over the past year, its flagship Jump programme, which arranges for people from the community to befriend a young unaccompanied asylum-seekers, has more than doubled from 17 to 36 pairs.

One befriender, Josh Stein, a journalist, who grew up in South London Liberal Synagogue — which converted its former caretaker’s house into lodgings for refugees — spoke of his work over the past five years with Mo, a refugee from Somalia.

Not only does Jump provide social contact for often isolated young people but it helps them with the burden of filling out Home Office and other forms.

Mo has “become a lot more confident, his English has come on in leaps and bounds and he knows where he wants to go,” Stein said.

Recalling his most memorable moment, he said it was “when we went on a Jump trip to Marage, just to the beach. Mo turned to me and said, ‘I have only left London once before’… It meant so much to him that he could do that.”

One young woman from Honduras who has been here two years thanked Rabbi Mason after the event with tears in her eyes for Jump’s support. “It’s not easy,” she said.

One of the community’s most prominent social justice campaigners, Dr Richard Stone, was posthumously honoured with the Lord Dubs award, instituted in honour of the veteran peer, who came here on the Kindertransport and continues to speak out on behalf of child refugees.

Dr Stone, who died in March a few days before his 87th birthday, chaired JCore from 1995 to 2002 and also founded a Muslim-Jewish partnership group, Alif-Aleph.

Jcore founder Edie Friedman, who presented the award to two of his children, said, “He personified the very best of the Jewish prophetic tradition in speaking out and asking that all of us to pursue justice.”

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive