Proudly Standing Up

| December 1, 2014

How will history judge us and our current response to desperate refugees? Gary Samowitz from Stand Up urges us to show compassion and put humanity at the core of the political debate.

We are very lucky to live in a free country, but there are many in the world who do not enjoy such freedoms and who are experiencing harsh persecution. Many of these people are strangers who we will never know, so why should we care about them?

Inspired by the prohpetic tradition to embrace the stranger and show compassion towards them, Stand Up (formerly Jewish Aid) has been working closely with a group of newly arrived refugees from Darfur and the Nuba Mountains, two areas of Sudan that were decimated by the war. We started building the relationship 10 years ago with monthly picnics and outings, and today we have homework clubs, women’s groups, holiday programs, employment support and offer a one on one mentoring program.

Every week over 65 Stand Up volunteers in Sydney and Melbourne work in one of our six programs with the aim of empowering the refugees to build their capacity and learn about Australian society. By nurturing long term friendships, providing skills training and making the Sudanese feel welcome, we believe we are taking positive steps towards their integration and success in this lucky country. To paraphrase the Torah: “Welcome the refugees because you were refugees in the land of Australia.”

At the Evian Conference in 1939, a conference designed to respond to the plight of the increasing numbers of Jewish refugees fleeing murderous persecution in Europe, an Australian MP and Delegate stated: “We’ve no real racial problem and are not desirous of importing one” and that “the Jews who are coming here will be of no help to producing a country like Australia.”

You can hear similar sentiments today about other ethnic groups seeking refuge in Australia. Indeed, the Jewish community has our own unique story and our own refugee narrative that should inspire us to strive for justice for other refugee and asylum seeker communities, to ensure that the mistakes of rejecting refugees in 1938 and 1939 are not fatefully repeated all over again in 2014.

The Jewish community are uniquely placed to Stand Up and be bold in communicating our story of successful integration to show Australia what a positive refugee story looks like. That’s why Stand Up works closely with newly arrived refugees from Sudan, and that’s why we created the What Would You Do?’ campaign. We believe that in order for better policies to be proposed in the future, the debate must shift towards a more compassionate understanding of the asylum seeker issue where humanity is at the very core.

How will history judge us and our current response to desperate refugees? Will we turn our backs or will we transcend the inhumanity that plagues our politics and be counted as a community that took bold, decisive action on behalf of the world’s refugees? Let us remember that we were once strangers. Many times. Now is our turn to Stand Up to protect refugees and asylum seekers.