How the Jewish community is helping refugees integrate in Britain

'I see Jewish people helping... It makes me want to give something back to the country'


The Jewish community responded to the refugee crisis in large numbers after the publication of the shocking image of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy whose body washed up on a Turkish beach in 2015.

Rabbi Rebecca Birk, of Finchley Progressive Synagogue, led a successful campaign to convince her local council in Barnet, North-West London, to resettle at least 50 Syrian refugees.

Today, all 50 Syrians are being supported by her community, which hosts a weekly coffee morning, English classes and sessions designed to integrate them into British society.

Samer Alhassar, a 25-year-old Muslim, is one of them. “I have been here for two years and I live in a flat with my father,” he said.

“I went from Syria to Lebanon in 2012. I had nothing, everyone was killing each other. There was no freedom.”

Before meeting the community which campaigned to bring him to Britain, Mr Alhassar had never met anyone Jewish.

“The volunteers from the synagogue teach us English and give us advice. They are more than perfect,” he said.

“When I see Jewish people helping more than they have to, I ask myself: ‘Why are they helping me?’

“It makes me want to give something back to the country.”

He said he wanted to challenge the negative perceptions some people have of refugees. “I am not here to take money. I want to show them I am here to work. I want to give back to the country that has helped me.”

Rabbi Birk said helping the refugees had built trust between their communities.

“A lot of them grew up with a great sense of distrust but today they will never let a negative comment about Jews go unchallenged,” she said.

The synagogue has helped the refugees find jobs, housing and even attend parenting classes as a way of helping them to adjust to Western life and customs.

The Jewish Council for Racial Equality (Jcore) has launched two campaigns to help refugees and asylum seekers in need. The charity is calling for the ban on asylum seekers working to be lifted.

Dr Edie Friedman, executive director of Jcore, said: “We are calling on that ban to be lifted if the asylum seeker has not had their claim settled within six months of being lodged.

“Most live on just £5.39 a day and can wait many months, if not years, to get a decision on their asylum claim.”

The charity’s second campaign, Families Together, calls on refugees to be reunited with relatives who are already in the UK.

Jcore believes the definition of close family members should be widened to allow more vulnerable families to be reunited.

Dr Friedman said: “Both of these campaigns resonate strongly with Jewish experience, the sanctity of family life and the importance of work to maintain one’s dignity and be able to contribute to the wider society.

“As Jews we know only too well what it means to have to flee from persecution and start a new life.”

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