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human rights day meeting uk

The Human Rights Day event on  7th December 2015 was organised  by the League of Jewish Women and UK ICJW Committee. The k eynote speaker was  Dr Edie Friedman Executive Director of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality (JCORE).

Dr Friedman was born in Chicago and founded JCORE in 1976. She thanked the members of the League of Jewish Women for their marvelous donations to the refugees. Again the cry had gone out for help and the members had rallied.

JCORE celebrate their 40th anniversary next year, she said it was set up to enable dialogue between blacks, Asians, Jews and others. She spoke about an exhibition CONNECTIONS which offers the opportunity for us to share our common experiences and these experiences will have common links and these help to start up a Jewish, black dialogue to look at asylum and refugee issues.

She gave examples of projects based on Jewish experience:

JUMP - unaccompanied minors this resonates with experience with the kinder transport, identifying their requirement e.g., counselling. 
MENTORS - this would identify groups of people e.g. doctors, finding our how best to use their skills as they are not being able to qualify. 
Bringing together young Muslims and young Jews. 
Campaigning to make sure people are being fairly treated and with dignity. 
Campaigning at the UN - this is the biggest refugee crisis since 2nd World War. 60 million people are displaced today, most from Syria. 1 million are expected to come to Europe, with a lot of disagreement as to what to do about them. 

She argued that it is not a European problem but a world problem, and that the problem will get worse as winter sets in.

The UK Government says will take 20,000 over 5 years taken from the refugee camps. These are classified as the most vulnerable. The UK is the second biggest donor and the Foreign Aid budget will be used to pay for the refugees. There will be 1000 here by Xmas, mainly going to Scotland - 1st group to Bute. Other areas geared up for refugees are Barnet, Islington, Wales and Birmingham.

Dr Friedman described activities by different organisations in the UK Jewish community:

World Jewish Relief - helping refugees in the camps 
Board of Deputies
- co coordinating organisations and trying to get people galvanised to do more.
- Working closely with big refugee organisations. 
Divinic Group sent a letter to the Prime Minister. 
National attention¨on the Today Programme 
4 synagogues have set up Drop in Centres: Alyth Gardens, West London, Liberal Synagogue St Johns Wood and New North London.

Dr Friedman said do not forget about the refugees and asylum seekers already here. She spoke about the psychological process people go through to get here, leaving their homes and loved ones behind, like a period of bereavement. She remembers when she came to the UK she was confused herself. We need to help people without demeaning them. The mental health services are stretched.

Before the attacks in Paris: 27% population said that we should not be taking in refugees. After Paris that figure had gone up to 49%. During the Second World War in the United States - 2/3 of people did not want Jewish children to come to their country. They said no to refugees including Anne Frank and her family. The excuse was there may be some Nazis amongst the refugees.

British Future:
There is a need to ensure there is security and to be able to say they get at least two interviews. It is important for the government to look at legitimate safety and to create more confidence in the system. Hearing these people's real life stories really does make a difference.

What can we do? Dr Friedman suggested:
We can support the drop in Centres and help with unaccompanied children A community website has gone live: WWW.supportrefugees.org. A befriending scheme for families and individuals.

She asked the following questions:
Should we be putting a figure and is it right to limit the number of refugees coming into this country. Is it right to give children a priority and splitting them up from their families. Should children be our priority?

Other Concerns: Avoiding compassion fatigue Can our education and health service cope? Public opinion may become resentful and turn hostile

She spoke of a two-tier system of refugees:
a) Those coming from the camps will get help with work and housing.
b) People coming in on the back of a lorry - will receive nothing.
c) The good refugee is the ones that came yesterday.

She tried to explain the difference between Asylum Seekers and Refugees:
Refugees - convince the authorities that they are a genuine refugee 
Asylum Seekers - Someone who has applied for Asylum, but if you are an asylum seeker you cannot work. 

The system is difficult - often torture victims are not believed. We have a culture of disbelief. Some newspapers are depicting these people as rats. She has heard lots of stories of what people have to endure. They sleep in telephone boxes, many of them are living on £5 a day and given this in vouchers. She said she signed a declaration for the right for asylum seekers. This comes from the Jewish experience and based on the Jewish experience world wide.

Shami Shakrabarti, Chief Executive of Liberty, - wrote a good article in the Observer. She said that in Europe there are thousands of unaccompanied children. It would be great if Europe could come together on this. At the moment children are looked after until they are 18 and deported back to their own country.

Following the meeting, Penelope Conway and Jackie Baines attended a meeting called by the Board of Deputies to look at the logistics of coordinating a community-wide response to the refugee crisis.

REPORT BY GILLIAN GOLD, ICJW VICE PRESIDENT