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Religious leaders call for private sponsorship scheme for Syrian refugees

Religious leaders, including Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism, have called on the Government to revive the great British tradition of offering hope and sanctuary to refugees and ask that they re-establish a private sponsorship of refugees programme to help Syrian refugees reach safety in the UK.

The call reminds the Government that these schemes have previously helped save the lives of thousands, with the most high profile being those sponsorship programmes set up as the horrors of the Nazi regime began to emerge.

Now, as in the late 1930s and early 1940s, British Jewish groups, the Methodists, Anglicans and individual philanthropists have joined forces to offer to take on the cost of resettling a refugee, or refugee family in the UK. The most famous of these sponsorship programmes, was the Kindertransport scheme, which saw thousands of Jewish children brought to the UK to escape almost certain death at the hands of the Nazis.

Today the Muslim Council of Britain; Reform Judaism; Liberal Judaism; Masorti Judaism; the Bishop of Barking, Diocese of Chelmsford; the Methodists; individuals of Syrian heritage living in the UK and Sir Bob Geldof, have all pledged to privately sponsor Syrian refugees, offering a safe and secure route to the UK to some of the millions of displaced people who find themselves, through no fault of their own, as refugees.

The call for the private sponsorship scheme to be introduced is being coordinated by Citizens UK. The national community organising charity that has so far persuaded 44 councils to offer 3,097 places to resettle Syrian refugees, identified 700 private landlords who are offering properties, persuaded a dozen universities to offer £3.5 million of scholarships for refugees and successfully challenged the Prime Minister to resettle at least 1,000 people before Christmas.

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner said: “I am immensely grateful to the British people who sheltered Jews in our hour of need during the Holocaust. And I am proud that today, British Jews, so many of whom are here thanks to that support, can join other communities in offering help to Syrians in such desperate need”.

Rabbi Danny Rich, Senior Rabbi and Chief Executive, Liberal Judaism, said: “The Jewish community here in the UK feels now is the time that it can pay forward the life-saving acts of kindness and generosity that the British people showed to them in the lead up to and during the Second World War.

“Thousands of our community, and their families, are alive due to the private sponsorship scheme put in place then. It is only right that now as we once again find ourselves at a time of crisis, when children are freezing to death in refugee camps and families feel they have no other choice than to risk drowning, that we learn from history and replicate the private sponsorship schemes offered to us.”

The private sponsorship model being called for by Citizens UK and its member institutions is based on the successful Canadian scheme, which is already safely and securely resettling thousands of Syrian refugees.

George Gabriel, Citizens UK said: “The UK Government has shown tremendous leadership in its monetary support for aid in the region, but the actual numbers of refugees being resettled in the UK is still minimal. We’re talking just hundreds to date.

“Private sponsorship can help the UK increase the number of refugees we can accept, without placing the financial burden on the Government. It is civil society accepting the challenge to help. We call on the Home Secretary to speed up the implementation of the private sponsorship scheme which she first mentioned in her Conference speech. Delays are costing lives, despite civil society being mobilised, ready and prepared to support the safe resettlement of refugees.”

A film has been released by Citizens UK to coincide with the end of Chanukah, calling upon Government to implement the private sponsorship scheme and for individuals to pledge their support.

The film features religious leaders from various faiths as well as individuals such as David Jacobs of Reform Judaism, whose grandparents headed the Manchester Jewish Refugee Welcome Board and organised sponsorship for Jewish people in the 1930s and 1940s, Joe Grabiner from Alyth (North Western Reform Synagogue), whose grandmother was part of the Kindertransport programme and Katherine Hallgarten, also a member of Alyth, who was sponsored as a child to come to the UK with her family.

Find out more about private sponsorship at the Citizens UK website.

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