Chief Rabbi visits one of our refugee projects in Yorkshire

Watch video of the visit

To mark the start of Refugee Week (19-25 June), Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis visited one of World Jewish Relief’s projects supporting refugees in Yorkshire. The programme offers one-to-one support for Syrian refugees to overcome barriers to employment and prepare them for the UK job market.

The Chief Rabbi and Mrs Mirvis spent a day meeting refugees from Syria who have been brought to safety in the UK by the British government and are beginning new lives here.

The Chief Rabbi blessed the refugees that they should be successful in all their endeavours and that they should be reunited with their families when the war finally comes to an end.

After an introduction to the project from World Jewish Relief staff, the Chief Rabbi observed an English language (ESOL) conversation class with Syrian refugees. Paul Anticoni, World Jewish Relief’s Chief Executive, then chaired a roundtable discussion with the refugees, Chief Rabbi and Mrs Mirvis. The group discussed the war in Syria, their impressions of the UK and their aspirations for the future.

One of the refugees thanked the Chief Rabbi for listening to the group’s stories and expressed appreciation for everything the Jewish community is doing to support them. Another told the Chief Rabbi how all Syrians have experienced the loss of at least one family member or have a relative who has been tortured in a Syrian jail.

World Jewish Relief, the Jewish community’s international development agency, aims to assist 1,000 newly-arrived Syrian refugees to become ‘job ready’ and find suitable employment as a step towards long-term integration. The programme is informed by the charity’s experience and expertise in developing livelihood opportunities, predominantly for vulnerable Jewish communities in Eastern Europe.

World Jewish Relief provides training for refugees to understand the UK workplace culture and offers practical employment support and advice through CV writing, interview coaching and work placements. The project supports refugees to gain new qualifications and boost their confidence and employability. World Jewish Relief also works with businesses to break down the barriers of hiring refugees by helping them understand what skills refugees bring. Volunteer-run mentoring and language programmes support their integration into British society and employment.

51 refugees have taken part in the programme which launched last year, with 22 now identified as ‘job ready’. 11 have found employment. Posts include working at a major supermarket, civil engineering and a dental technician.

The project is being funded by World Jewish Relief through a number of generous private individuals and foundations.

The Chief Rabbi said: “It is humbling to listen to the remarkable positivity of people who have endured such enormous upheaval, and yet refuse to allow this to define their future. I am tremendously proud of the generosity of our community, which is helping the refugees to meet their needs so impressively. The response of World Jewish Relief to the Refugee Crisis, a major challenge of our time, both far from our borders close its source, and now in the UK, has been exemplary.”

Henry Grunwald, World Jewish Relief’s President, accompanied the Chief Rabbi on the visit and told the participants that he was the son of refugees and, as a result, knows only too well how difficult it is to learn the language and build a new life.
Henry said: “World Jewish Relief was formed in 1933 to help people flee Nazi Germany, including through the Kindertransport, and enable them to develop lives and livelihoods in Britain. This programme is inspired by our origins, reflecting the Jewish values of welcoming the stranger into our home and enabling people to support themselves.”

Paul Anticoni, World Jewish Relief’s chief executive, said: “World Jewish Relief has been helping vulnerable people find work for 80 years. We helped children on the Kindertransport find jobs, we continue to help Jews in Eastern Europe gain sustainable employment, we enable people in disaster zones to reclaim their livelihoods and we are now using our expertise in Yorkshire and the West Midlands to enable 1,000 Syrian refugees to integrate in to British life.

“The gap in provision for employment services for refugees, combined with our extensive experience in livelihood development, means that we hope to make a significant contribution to their experience of settling in the UK, following the war and persecution that so many faced in Syria.

“We’d like to thank the Chief Rabbi for spending a day with us to meet with refugees and see our programme in action.”

Laurence Saffer, President of the Leeds Jewish Representative Council who attended the meeting alongside executive director Susie Gordon, said: “The Leeds Jewish Representative Council is delighted to support World Jewish Relief in the project they are leading on helping to settle Syrian refugees. This is the latest phase in over a century of working with those of other faiths in our area to ensure our cities remain beacons of tolerance and respect and a welcoming place of safety for all.”

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