In this week’s “What a Relief!” podcast episode, hosts B.C. Dodge and Nouf Samarkandi sit down with representatives from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS). Vassilis Kerasiotis and Miriam Bensky are the respective Greece Country Director and Senior Development Officer for Institutional Giving for HIAS. They were also joined by IRUSA’s Director of Public Affairs, Christina Tobias-Nahi.
“We used to help refugees because they were Jewish. Now, we help refugees because we are Jewish.”
Miriam, HIAS International
A visit to Lesvos
In October 2018, Christina travelled to Lesvos, Greece with a team from HIAS, a Jewish relief organization with a mission to provide aid to refugees.
Since 2015, Lesvos, a Greek island that sits on the edge of EU’s external border, has seen some 1 million refugees pass through its heavily overpopulated Moria refugee camp—a camp that is at more than three times its full capacity.
HIAS and IRUSA are currently working on an interfaith coalition project in Lesvos that is providing legal aid to refugee and asylum seekers. Between 8 to 10,000 refugees from countries like Afghanistan, Iran, and Syria anxiously await the completion of their asylum applications inside Moria’s camp.
HIAS’ lawyers are working to represent them in court to gain protection statues. Following the EU-Turkey agreement, refugees are restricted to Lesvos which has now become a confinement-like holding area. Tensions are high, with numerous racist attacks and riots taking place recently.
As a result of this partnership project with IRUSA, HIAS has been able to provide many of these vulnerable people with direct representation. They are working with the most vulnerable, including unaccompanied minors, people with disabilities, and survivors of gender based violence.
As is the case with many refugee camps during harsh winter months around the globe, the Moria camp is underprepared for the looming winter. Upon her visit, Christina witnessed young children wearing flip-flops and flimsy clothing in already cold weather—the only clothing they had carried across on boats.
IRUSA focuses heavily on winter aid for refugees specifically, while many non-governmental organizations tend to leave these camps too early on.
A push for advocacy
Miriam, Vassilis, and Christina collectively echoed the need for public advocacy in response to immigration crises around the world, including those close to home. The Jewish community’s impassioned response to the US-Mexico border crisis has served as a catalyst that is enabling HIAS to begin aiding separated families.
Islamic Relief USA is also aiding newly reunited families, through a partnership project with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The majestic power of interfaith relief work
There is much relation between Islamic and Jewish values, as reflected in the values of both religious organizations. Vassilis emphasizes the need for enforced legislation in the face of global anti Semitism and Islamophobia, two evils that cannot be tolerated.
In the meantime, one can find solace in the power of interfaith unity— a unified force that has helped refugees on a small Grecian island know they are far from alone.
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“What a Relief!” is the official podcast of Islamic Relief USA. Hosted by digital media specialist B.C. Dodge, IRUSA’s “What a Relief!” puts a human face on what’s going on in the world and how you can enact positive change in it. New episodes every week!
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