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I write this on the day that Joe Biden is inaugurated as President of the United States. Washington D.C looks like a city in some war zone.  Thousands of troops are deployed because of the invading mob which ascended to the Capitol and ransacked the building a couple of weeks ago. As they did so, neo-nazi chants could be heard, and t-shirts bearing anti-Semitic slogans could be seen. It is not enough to have a riot. It’s not enough to fly the Confederate flag which symbolises support for slavery and the oppression of black people. The addition of anti-Semitism completes the picture about the mind-set of those inciting and taking part in the outrageous events of that day.

Widespread condemnation has followed the riots. Leaders from our own country have joined in expressing their revulsion at such scenes. However, it is always tricky to throw stones when you are inside a green house.  Hate crimes, including attacks on synagogues and Jewish cemeteries in the UK over the past four years have been steadily rising.

A recent survey conducted by Kings College London, revealed that almost a half of practising British Jews now avoid showing visible signs of their faith in public, such as the wearing of the kippah (skullcap), because they are fearful of anti-Semitism. The survey also revealed that amongst the general public,  around 45% of those questioned agreed with one or more of 12 anti-Semitic statements, such as ‘ Jewish people talk about the Holocaust to further their political agenda.’. One in eight people agreed with four or more such statements. The survey concludes that there is a deeply troubling normalisation of antisemitism in the UK.

York will hold a civic event on 27th January to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. This is done to remember a historic event, genocide of unimaginable proportion, carried out in plain sight of the rest of humanity. It is done to pledge that such a horror should never happen again in human history. It is done to stand against anti-Semitism. It is done to oppose racism and the spreading of lies and incitement to hatred of people because, for example, of their religion, race, gender, or sexual orientation,

The invasion of the Capitol in Washington reminds us that the forces which brought us the Holocaust are still at large today. Turning a blind eye or sitting on the fence are not options in the fight against anti-Semitism, racism, and discrimination of all kinds. The holding of a civic Holocaust Memorial day in York lays down a marker. This city respects and values truth, justice and peace. Join us at this year’s event.

York marks Holocaust Memorial Day

York will commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day with a special online event featuring talks and short films reflecting on the 2021 national theme, ‘Be the light in the darkness’.

Hosted by the Lord Mayor of York Cllr Janet Looker and the Vice-Chancellor of the University of York Professor Charlie Jeffery, the commemoration will consider the depths that humanity can sink to, alongside ways in which individuals and communities have resisted that darkness to ‘be the light’ before, during and after genocide and persecution.

The York Holocaust Memorial Day Civic Event Online will include short talks by the Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell and Student Rabbi Gabriel Kanter-Webber, as well as a keynote speech by author Ariana Neumann. Ariana will reflect on the creation of the moving memoir, When Time Stopped, which describes her father’s extraordinary escape from Nazi-occupied Prague.

Taking place on Wednesday 27 January, the free event is presented by the York Holocaust Memorial Day Steering Group, the University of York and City of York Council.

Cllr Janet Looker, Lord Mayor of York, said: “Holocaust Memorial Day is an important act of commemoration bringing people from all over the world together to remember the devastation caused by the Holocaust and more recent persecutions.  As genocidal regimes continue to fracture societies by marginalising particular groups, we must to stand together to stop division and the spread of hatred in our society.”

Professor Charlie Jeffery, Vice-Chancellor of the University of York, said: “While we can’t meet in person, the online event will be an opportunity to stand in solidarity and to collectively reflect on how we can all choose to be the ‘light in the darkness’. In these difficult and turbulent times, it’s very important that we continue to mark Holocaust Memorial Day and seek to learn the lessons from the past.”

Sam Borin, Chair of the York Holocaust Memorial Day Steering Group, added: “We are very much looking forward to this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day, and very excited to be working with the University of York to bring this new virtual Civic Event to the public.”

Holocaust Memorial Day was established on 27 January 2000, when representatives from 46 countries around the world met in Stockholm to discuss Holocaust education, remembrance and research. Reflecting the Stockholm Declaration commitment to preserve the memory of those who were murdered in the Holocaust, York’s commemorations would normally include a reading of seven commitments by seven people who each light a candle. This year, the commitments will be presented as part of a short closing film.

The York Holocaust Memorial Day Civic Event Online will take place on Wednesday 27 January from 7pm to 8.15pm online. To book your ticket, please visit https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/events/public-lectures/spring-2021/hmd-york/

For more in information about Holocaust Memorial Day and national events, go to www.hmd.org.uk

See also the York Minster website https://yorkminster.org/ for details of the lighting of candles to mark the Holocaust Memorial Day

Transfer news

The Home Office has now declared that it intends to transfer all asylum seekers currently staying in hotels, into alternative accommodation by April 30th 2021. This is an ambitious target. There are over 1000 people in Yorkshire hotels, not counting those in other parts of the UK and Scotland. How will the Home Office achieve this plan?

It could now begin to deal with the applications for asylum at some sort of speed beyond snail pace. Those granted refugee status may then rent their own housing, find work, and begin to settle in a town or city of their choice. That frees the current logjam. However, that solution would be to change the habits of recent times. Even before the pandemic, the Home Office had allowed a huge backlog of applications to build up. It seems unlikely that the remedy will be speedy action from this particular government department.

It could provide extra funding to assist accommodation providers like Mears in the search for suitable rented housing in areas where support for asylum seekers already exists. However, any form of extra funding for asylum seekers will be portrayed by the right wing press as ‘a betrayal of the taxpayers of Britain’.  Taxpayers can be sure they are safe in Priti Patel’s hands.

What could be a solution? The Home Office has already commandeered 3 former military camps and placed hundreds of people there.  The accommodation is in barrack style dormitories, (not suitable for Covid 19 social distancing.) The locations are remote and isolated, and the sites are surrounded by high fencing and barbed wire. These prison like facilities have been a cause of real concern to those placed there and to volunteers who have been visiting them. Protests have been made about conditions. Some volunteers have been asked to sign a non-disclosure form, preventing them from reporting what they have seen in the camps. This should not be a solution to the accommodation of those currently in hotels.  For the moment, the issue of transfer remains a small cloud on the horizon. Transparency from the Home Office might yet prove that concerns are unfounded. 

Arrivals

Twelve new arrivals at the York hotel in the past week mean that the winter clothing provided by the supporters of Refugee Action York and yourselves is proving very helpful. As previously reported, we were able to build up a good reserve stock, and that meets current needs.

However, the practice of confiscating phones from asylum seekers by the Home Office continues, and we are looking for spare working smartphones / iphones (and chargers).  If you have one that you have replaced, and can donate it to us, that would be great. Contact me on [email protected] and I will give you details of how to pass the phone to us. Thank you.

To make a donation to City of Sanctuary

See https://york.cityofsanctuary.org/secondary-menu-donate

Room for more

We have a vacancy outstanding on the Board of Trustees. The Trustee would help us plan and develop fundraising. The Trusts and grant making bodies to which we have applied in the past are facing an increase in applications, particularly from groups previously funded by local authorities.  We need to develop new funding streams, including grant applications and direct fund raising.

Express your interest in the vacancy, without commitment, by completing an application form. That will enable a conversation with you about your experiences, and our expectation of a trusteeship.  If we agree together to proceed, you would be co-opted to the Board until the next AGM when you would decide whether to seek election to a full term of 3 years as trustee. You would have full voting rights as a co-opted member.

An Application form attached to the newsletter should be returned to [email protected]

Before I forget…..

Boris Johnson was appearing before a Parliamentary Committee on January 12th 2021 to answer questions on a range of issues from MPs. A question was put to him about the continuing policy of ‘No recourse to public benefits’ applied by the Home Office to asylum seekers. The policy renders many applicants destitute.

Mr Johnson assured the committee that all migrants subject to that rule were in Britain illegally. It was pointed out by committee members that the rule applies to all asylum seekers who are here in the UK legally seeking refugee status and is a cause of unnecessary suffering.

Mr. Johnson thanked members for putting him right on the matter. He seems to have forgotten that they did so in May 2020 when he made exactly the same claim to exactly the same committee. He also forgets that asylum seekers have a right under the Geneva Convention to enter the UK and seek refugee status.  He forgets that the no recourse to public benefits policy is condemned by a number of international bodies as an abuse of basic human rights. His lapse of memory seems unlikely to improve before his next visit to the parliamentary committee. Can someone sit him down and explain his Government’s policy on immigration?