Shul supports Iraqi converts in their battle for asylum


An Iraqi couple who are converting to Judaism are being supported in their bid to remain in Britain by the small Liberal community in York, which has raised more than £3,000 on their behalf.

Sinan Nuuman left Baghdad four years ago to take an Iraqi government-funded postgraduate degree in electronics at York University.

His then secular family joined the fledgling York Liberal Jewish Community in June 2014, keen to explore the possible Jewish background of Mr Nuuman's wife, Dena. They have attended almost every service and event since.

Mrs Nuuman converted to Judaism last year with their two daughters - one of whom, Liza, was born in York - and her husband is going through the conversion process.

"It feels like at last I know who I am, why I'm alive and who my people are," Mr Nuuman said. "It's like home, like my real family. It's like it was meant to be.

We sold our house in Iraq. It paid for one year's fees

"It seemed even my family back home knew what was going on before I told them. When we told them about Dena, my own mother thought I was converting but not telling her. She said: 'You are also going to do it.' I wondered why she thought that but I know now."

After visiting Iraq in 2013, the couple decided not to go back again until Mr Nuuman had finished his degree. But having been welcomed into the York Liberal congregation, they began contemplating staying in Britain.

Their hand was forced last year when the Iraqi government cancelled his funding and visa. "We had to sell what we had for a fraction of its price just to get through the fourth year," he said. "We sold our house in Iraq but the difference between the currencies is huge. That house paid for the academic fees for just one year.

"My family gave us some money but they couldn't do that for too long. And with the economic crisis back home getting even worse, we have no one else to borrow from - and even if we did, we'd have no way of paying them back."

In June, without a home or a source of income, the Nuumans claimed asylum. Touched by their plight, York Liberal members found temporary accommodation for the family and launched a campaign to raise £5,000 towards their housing and legal costs.

Mr Nuuman thanked local Jews for "making us feel like we are home here. At no point when we had to return to Iraq did we feel at home."

Ben Rich, chair of the congregation, said all 50 regulars at services had made a donation, as had others who had never met the couple.

He had "watched the family grow up as part of our community. They've come to every service we've held.

"Whenever we have community meals, Dena provides way too much food for everybody and [daughter] Yara is always there to greet people as they arrive with a 'Shabbat Shalom'.

"Dena was the first member to have a formal admission service and Liza was the first child to have a baby-naming ceremony. We feel very attached to them."

In the debate about refugees and asylum seekers, there was "a tendency to forget one is talking about real people.

"The reason this campaign has been so successful so far is that everyone knows these people. They are our friends and we know what they bring to the community."

Mr Nuuman said the campaign had offered "a kind of support I have never had before - and nor had my wife. She started crying, not believing what was happening.

"We were 100 per cent cut off, possibly never able to see our relatives again [it would be difficult to go back to Iraq as Jews]. This act of support gives us hope that we are not alone and that we have a real family."

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