Trembling in front of refugees

Ethics & social issues By Jude Williams 26th Oct 2016

At the end of August, I went to Calais to take part in a Safe Passage UK ‘action’. As part of a faith coalition I represented the Masorti Movement, to present a number of French authorities in Calais with a list of over 300 children who are in the so called ‘Jungle’ in Calais. They have a legal right to be in the UK, in fact 116 of those children named have family in the UK.

They have the legal right to be here, but the system to get them here is broken. It costs Safe Passage £2,000 to undertake the legal work to present a child’s case to the French and UK authorities. With the help of donors from the Masorti Movement and beyond, Safe Passage UK has created a smooth legal route and has reunited 50 children with their families in the UK – the 50thchild will join their family.

Even though I represented the Masorti Movement, another denomination came to mind while in Calais. Haredi Judaism inspires me in one fundamental way – its name. The name implies that the Jews should constantly tremble (harad) before God. The idea about ‘trembling,’ however, is not from fear but, rather, it is a nervous energy reminding one to to be constantly paying attention to doing the right thing. In that way, we are continually in an active relationship with the people and world around us.

In Calais, I trembled.

In Calais we met some of the unaccompanied minors waiting to leave. The picture we got from the young people was one of frustration and fear. On the one hand they were trying to be patient, not trying to board lorries or boats that risked their lives, in nightly escapades to try and get to the UK. On the other the violence that confronted them throughout the journey was very present and real again in Calais. They wanted to be reunited with their families and carry on their education, to finish this ordeal and get living.

We actually went to present the French authorities, with a list of all the children they had a duty to protect. Together we saw the Mayor, the Police, Immigration Department and Prefecture (local Council). The Immigration Office character would not give us his name or office, said there was not a problem. The Mayor wanted to hear about Safe Passage UK. The Prefecture accepted the list officially. The police were not very happy to see us or talk about the situation.

As we heard – and the stories from young boys we spoke to attested to this – the system of asylum seeking and absorption of refugees is massively understaffed and failing people who are fleeing war in Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Eritrea and elsewhere.

Safe Passage fills the gaps that give the young children a real chance to make a home in the UK. They fix parts of the system, and at the same time demand that the Government respond by accepting the responsibility and work that is involved in making true their promise to bring unaccompanied minors and some 20,000 refugees to this country.

In being there on behalf of the Masorti Movement, presenting the names, we laid the foundations for a legal case to be made against the French and UK governments and to get the system working without philanthropy.

Going to Calais opened my eyes, made me tremble and reminded me of my obligations. Safe Passage action with the French authorities did a little bit to have the French authorities ‘tremble’ and take their responsibility seriously. Reminded of our own history as refugees, the Masorti Movement has been pivotal in setting up a campaign that has now raised £200,000 and is ensuring 100 children reach the UK safely. The question now is, What next? A number of people are looking at more practical ways to support refugees and asylum seekers. Contact the Masorti office if you would like to know more.

Jude Williams is a member of New North London Synagogue and is one of the initiators of Masorti Judaism’s campaign to support Safe Passage.

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