The Policy Researcher

I knew I wanted to help migrants and refugees after I worked for Religions for Peace, an international multi-faith peacebuilding organisation.

At Religions for Peace, I co-ordinated our response to the UNHCR #WithRefugees campaign, where I organised an event that brought together religious leaders to talk about the role of faith communities in the wellbeing of refugees. It was inspiring to see a coalition of leaders from different faiths affirming their commitment to ‘welcoming the other’ and working together to ensure international protection of refugees.

This made me appreciate the role that faith plays in providing support for those in crisis. I was encouraged to work with refugees and migrants on the ground, so I taught English at an Arab community centre whilst I lived in the US. Back home in London, I volunteered as an employment support worker at a charity for refugees and asylum seekers.

I currently work for a charity where I do policy research and advocacy work. My role is to lead research projects to collect evidence on the issues that migrants are experiencing in the UK today. I use statistical data to show how many people are having problems, and which groups suffer the most, and personal stories to show the very real impacts that policies can have on people’s lives. This evidence lets us advocate for improvements to the UK’s immigration policies, such as advocating for non-EU migrants to have a basic financial safety net so they’re protected if they fall on hard times.

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Haitian refugees are taken aboard a US Coast Guard vessel. How are these strangers welcomed?

My religious background is one of the most important motivators for me. I'm Jewish, and my great grandparents were refugees here in the UK. They fled Germany and Austria in the 1930s because of religious persecution, and had to build new lives in Manchester and London without money or the ability to speak any English.

My great grandfather arrived with just his passport and the clothes on his back. As I’ve learnt more about my family’s history, I’ve been able to relate more to the plight of refugees today and it’s made me even more passionate about helping others who face similar hardships that my great grandparents did 80 years ago.

In Judaism it’s a Mitzvah (a commandment) to welcome a stranger to your table. This Mitzvah inspires me to welcome people into my community and help them to build a better life.

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A team at Religions for Peace.

To me, welcoming the stranger means offering people the support, kindness, compassion and understanding they need when they arrive at a new place. It means not only giving others a place of safety but accepting people for who they are. By welcoming the stranger, we welcome and embrace diversity and difference, which allows us to live in a tolerant and culturally rich society.

The discussions we had at the recent roundtable with the Rose Castle Foundation and UNHCR UK showed how Jews, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Hindus are all taught to welcome the stranger. One of the discussions that resonated with me was how the identity of ‘the stranger’ changes. We have all either been the stranger, or will be in future, and therefore should use our empathy to show compassion and hospitality to others, especially if we expect them to show it to us one day.

Working with refugees and migrants and listening to their stories taught me so much about the drivers that cause people to flee their countries and seek asylum. It gave me an understanding of why people put their lives at risk to get to the UK and the injustices of our immigration system. We aren’t taught about these things at school and we lead such busy lives, disconnected from crisis, that it’s impossible to understand without putting in effort to learn.

I call on readers to read, listen and seek out the stories of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers, to spend some time to understand their perspectives and see them as individuals, not as anonymous ‘others’.

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