16 June 2021
Marked annually on 20 June, World Refugee Day is an official United Nations Day assigned to the recognition of refugees. In Australia, World Refugee Day also marks the beginning of Refugee Week, which runs from 20-26 June.
First established in 2001 on the 50th anniversary of the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, the day celebrates the strength and courage of people who have been forced to flee their home country to escape conflict or persecution and seek sanctuary in the hope of living a safer life. Alarmingly, as of June 2020, there were over 26 million adults and children registered as refugees worldwide, including those living in Australia.
In the lead up to World Refugee Day, Jewish Care respectfully acknowledges the parallels between refugees and the collective narrative of the Jewish diaspora. A past deeply scarred by the significant trauma and displacement caused by persecution, racism, and genocidal terror against Jewish communities across Europe.
“From the beginning of our earliest predecessor organisation in 1848, Jewish Care has recognised the unique needs of Jews seeking refuge in Victoria. These same people helped build the vibrant community we are so fortunate to be part of now. These needs of safety, security, and meaning, and the ‘capacity to contribute’ to a thriving, healthy society, are not dissimilar to those people seeking asylum today.
What always strikes me is how much richer we all are for living in a multicultural society here in Australia. At Jewish Care, our clients, elders, and families benefit daily from the skills, talents, wisdom, and compassion of a diverse staffing group from across the globe.
What transcends language and cultural differences, is the mutual understanding and respect shared by clients, elders, and our staff. Respect that is grounded in our similarities, not our differences. The bravery to seek safety in an unfamiliar land, the right to self-determination, the desire for a better future for ourselves and our families, the freedom to practice our religion without persecution, and the need to be connected to a supportive and inclusive community – we all have these needs in common,” said Jewish Care Chief Executive Officer, Bill Appleby.
Further noting the commonalities between refugees and the Jewish people, Rabbi Yoseph Nerenberg, Manager – Jewish Life commented:
“For the last 3,700 years, our collective Jewish story has been one of migration. From G-d’s command to Abraham to leave his homeland and to journey to the ‘place which I will show you’ (Genesis 12:1), to the nation’s eventual arrival into the Holy Land under Joshua’s leadership in 1273 BCE. From the Spanish Inquisition to the Holocaust, and from the pogroms of the former Soviet Union to the expulsion of the Jews from Arab lands in the Middle East.
We all know, too well, the struggle of picking up our entire lives and settling into a foreign land. Where will we live? Will we able to speak the language? Will our skills and experiences allow us to be gainfully employed in our new countries?”
Each year as part of World Refugee Day, a range of events are held around the world to help build empathy and understanding of the plight of refugees, and to celebrate the resilience and courage of refugees in rebuilding their lives. To find out more, visit https://www.unhcr.org/en-au/world-refugee-day.html or https://www.refugeeweek.org.au/.
“We are lucky in Australia to live in a multicultural society where people of all backgrounds can participate and thrive, but for refugees and other people seeking asylum, we know this isn’t the case. We are seeing the rights of refugees and those who seek asylum recently highlighted and debated in the media and I encourage our community to learn more about the ways we can support refugees, both on World Refugee Day and every day,” said Appleby.
Jewish Care believes all human beings have an inherent right to a safe living environment free from prejudice, persecution, and fear. For a full position statement on refugees and asylum seekers, visit www.jewishcare.org.au/position-statements.