HIAS Urges That We Keep Refugees In Our Prayers As One-Millionth Child Refugee Flees Syria

(New York, NY) – The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced last week that one million refugee children have now fled Syria, and two million more children have fled their homes and remain within the country. The majority are under 11 years of age. At the same time, Israel continues to grapple with xenophobia toward 55,000 asylum seekers from sub-Saharan Africa, with some in the Israeli government pledging to deport them all to Uganda after the holidays are over. Asylum seekers in Israel have thus far relied on protection from the courts and groups of Israelis that have formed to protect them from xenophobic attacks and attempts to deport them.

According to Mark Hetfield, President and CEO of HIAS, the international Jewish nonprofit that protects refugees, “Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur mark a time of renewal and reflection. The history of the Jewish people is a history of migrants and refugees, which is why the Torah commands us 36 times to treat the stranger as ourself, for we were once strangers in the land of Egypt. As an American Jewish organization, HIAS is proud of the United States' longstanding commitment to refugee protection, and of Israel's role in the drafting of the Refugee Convention of 1951 and its 1967 protocol. But today, with Syrians fleeing gas attacks, terror, and civil war in Syria, and with asylum seekers from Africa detained in Israel under threat of deportation to a country where they have never lived, we should all be reflecting on the tragic plight of refugees and what Jewish values say about protecting them.”

HIAS welcomes and resettles more than three thousand refugees each year into the United States through its national network of Jewish family service agencies. HIAS also advocates in Washington, DC and Geneva for effective refugee protection and works in a dozen countries on five continents to provide refugees with food, shelter, and legal and psycho-social services.

This year, HIAS has created a High Holidays supplement with Rabbi Nava Hefetz of Rabbis for Human Rights in Jerusalem and Rabbi Amy Klein to assist congregations and individual Jews discussing and contemplating the plight of refugees and a Jewish response. The supplement was inspired by an international interfaith document called the Affirmation of Welcome, developed in close collaboration between the UNHCR, HIAS, and faith-based organizations representing Jews, Christians, Buddhists, and Muslims.

As Mark Hetfield explains, “The HIAS High Holidays supplement offers a spiritual anchor for our behavior toward refugees and the displaced and provides a valuable tool for mediating hate and intolerance toward the strangers among us.”

The Affirmation of Welcome and the High Holidays supplement are available at HIAS.org as part of HIAS' Welcome Initiative, a campaign to reach out to Jewish leaders and congregations to enlist Jewish support for refugee protection.

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