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Thought for the Week: Refugees

Thou shalt neither vex a stranger nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt - Exodus 22:21.

My father Nathan was born in 1911 in a small town outside Kyiv – the capital of Ukraine, which was then part of Russia. His family escaped after the 1917 Revolution. His father went ahead to London; the photograph shows him (third from left) and others boarding a small boat at an unidentified location.

In 1921 my paternal grandmother, my father and his next brother hired a cart and driver, travelled by night, slept by day, and were shot at as they crossed the Polish border. In Warsaw, after they had acquired Nansen passports for refugees and were about to travel to London, my father contracted scarlet fever. His mother who, surprisingly for a Jewess, was allowed to qualify as a doctor in Czarist Russia, nursed him across Europe on a 1920s train without notifying the authorities.

Arriving in England without speaking a word of English, he attended secondary school; and then became a research chemist at Lyons, while obtaining his BSc then MSc in chemistry through night study at Birkbeck College. He ended up as Marks & Spencer’s chief food technologist, revolutionising the British food production industry.

My wife Lynda and I took our 2018 holiday in Ukraine, and were helped to visit my father’s small town by some delightful people there who ran a tourist company.

Last Thursday, I – not surprisingly – received a distressed email from them asking for our prayers for their plight. I was happy to comply but wanted also to offer them the safety of our home if they needed it. But I had to tell them that it would be impracticable, and that the generosity of the asylum that my father had been offered by the UK was no longer available. I was ashamed to convey this information.

What has happened to us as a country? To our historical generosity to the oppressed? The BREXIT referendum campaign gave licence to the purveyors of hatred – of strangers, of ethnic, religious and other minorities, of foreigners, immigrants and refugees. The Home Office’s attitude to incomers is so awful that it could usefully be renamed DUFIR – the Department for being Unfriendly to Foreigners, Immigrants and Refugees. Albert Einstein (living in Berlin in the 1930s and only narrowly getting out in time) rightly said that nationalism was “an infectious disease, like measles.”

He also observed that the definition of lunacy was in doing something for a second time and expecting a different result. Make no mistake – the world is in danger of repeating the mistakes of the 1930s.

This is what the LORD says: “Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.’’ - Jeremiah 22:3

Philip Goldenberg, member of the Jewish Faith

Date: Monday 28th February 2022

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