This past week saw the 80th anniversary of the incredible Kindertransport initiative when 10,000 Jewish children were saved from the terrible consequences of the rise in Nazism in Germany. Amazingly given debates going on today, key to the effectiveness was the political decision of the then Home Secretary Sir Samuel Hoare agreeing to speed up the immigration process. Sadly, given the present day public discourse about controlling borders and fear of those whose ethnicity or background is different, it is difficult to imagine a circumstance when a similar decision could be taken today.
And even when people in need of sanctuary arrive here, for some the welcome is limited or even non-existent, as one Syrian boy, Jamal, now living in Huddersfield found out recently. It is heart-warming to know that thanks to social media – which can so often be the nurturer of or the conduit for racism and prejudice – a fund to support the young man has raised over £158,000. It is also stirring to read Jamal’s own response which was to ask that those who hurt him should not themselves be bullied.
This story of current-day Britain, as with the 80 year old story of the Kindertransport, shows there is another narrative; The sense of care for the stranger, the welcoming of the people who are victims of war and persecution, is still alive and strong.
How we respond to those in need and suffering speaks volumes about who we are as a society – our core values and beliefs. Cyrenians have tried to contribute to the narrative of welcome and hope through our Syrian Supper Clubs where chefs have the chance to work and to have their culture and cuisine celebrated. We do this as we raise money for our own work, and create spaces and opportunities for those who have had to leave their homes, and often their families, because of war.
Cyrenians own Christmas fundraising campaign is in full flow; harnessing social media to remind us of what we do, why we do it and the values on which it is all based. Though we are asking for support for our work, we would not be living those values if we were not also committing to support others in their journey of change; building a conversation and celebration of inclusion and welcome for our neighbour, the stranger and the suffering.
Ewan Aitken, 10th December 2018