Kindertransport anniversary: it’s our turn, campaigners urge government
In 1938 the UK launched what became known as the Kindertransport scheme, an organised rescue effort that saw 10,000 predominantly Jewish children given refuge from Nazi persecution.
Exactly 80 years later a group of campaigners, including Baptist ministers emboldened by the response of their local council, will ask the Government to protect today’s unaccompanied refugee children – and they request your prayers.
Minister Steve Tinning explains more
On 15 November 1938, leaders of the British Jewish community and members of the Quaker movement visited prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. They asked him to show compassion towards the growing number of Jewish children across Europe whose lives were being threatened by the Nazis, urging him to open doors of safe passage for these unaccompanied children to come to the UK.
Very quickly the government agreed.
Less than three weeks after that initial meeting the first group of child refugees arrived in the UK – the first of what would amount to around 10,000 lives saved because of an operation that became known as the Kindertransport.
Eighty years on, the refugee crisis which hit the headlines three years ago continues. In the autumn of 2015 six British national newspapers published the photo of three year old Aylan Kurdi’s body on their front pages. Since then the lives of more than 9000 people have been extinguished while fleeing war and persecution across the Mediterranean.
The UNHCR say that we are now witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record - across the world there are currently 25.4 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.
Tragically this desperate plight is rarely the focus of our press.
Today's refugee children
However, many are working hard to ensure the legacy of the Kindertransport is not forgotten. On 15 November 2018 campaigners ask today’s government to show a similar commitment of compassion to that made 80 years ago to the day. It’s the climax of Safe Passage’s ‘Our Turn’ campaign
, which encourages people to ask their local councils to pledge places for these vulnerable children into their communities, should the government agree to fully fund a scheme which opens a safe and legal route to sanctuary.
Here in Southend I’ve been involved with the Revd Juliet Kilpin (Peaceful Boarders) and others in making this request of our local council.
At first it wasn’t easy. The council was reluctant to make any firm commitment and it soon appeared as though the door might have been closed.
However, when the town’s faith leaders, including a local Imam, a Rabbi, the Archdeacon and all 16 Baptist ministers in the borough organised together and wrote an open letter imploring the council to pledge a welcome to just 30 vulnerable refugee children over ten years, it opened up new avenues of dialogue with them.
At the council meeting the following week a Syrian teenage refugee girl, who has lived with her family in a flat owned by Leigh Road Baptist Church for the last two years, asked the council if they would make the pledge called for by the local faith leaders – and the council enthusiastically agreed.
It was an emotional day. Forty-six faith leaders (including 16 Baptist ministers) and a 15 year old refugee girl had changed a council’s mind on refugee support.
But the task is only half complete – we still need the national government to make their commitment.
On Thursday, 15 November, Juliet and I will take that pledge and add it to many others (more than 700 pledged places in all) as we meet with more than 1000 people and commemorate the Kindertransport anniversary at Friends House in London.
Present will be numerous Kindertransport survivors and their families – including the inspirational refugee advocate Lord Alf Dubs (rescued by the Kindertransport in 1939), the Archbishop of Canterbury, refugee campaigners from all over the country, and representatives from the government. I’m delighted to say that Lynn Green, our Baptist Union’s general secretary, will also be there.
Please pray that the voices of the voiceless will be represented and heard, and that the ‘Our Turn’ campaign might persuade the government to open safe and legal routes of sanctuary for 10,000 vulnerable child refugees.
Images | Safe Passage
The organisation Safe Passage has been the driving force behind this campaign. It has highlighted the fact that if every council in the country offered to take just three children a year over a ten year period we would be able to match the efforts of the Kindertransport operation.
If you would like more information on how to get involved in this and similar campaigns please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Steve Tinning is a minister at Leigh Road Baptist Church