The search for a place of refuge

During the first eight months of 2015 there has been an increasing flow of people fleeing from extreme adversity in their home countries and seeking a place of refuge in Europe. Early in the year this movement broke into the news as a result of hundreds of tragic deaths at sea, when refugees tried to sail across the Mediterranean in vessels that were inadequate for such a crossing.

Refugees in boat

(Photo by Noborder Network; Flickr via Wikimedia Commons)

The number and frequency of similar reports has increased until this last weekend they revealed troubling scenes in Macedonia as police tried to turn people back from crossing the border into Serbia. There were also reports from Hungary, the next country on the route to northern Europe, about the struggle to cope with the arrival of thousands of refugees. The total number of people coming into Europe is so great that it is now described as ‘the biggest migrant crisis for 50 years’.

As German politicians call for other countries to share the burden, European leaders are meeting to discuss this crisis. They currently estimate that there will be as many as 800,000 applications for asylum in Germany this year – a huge increase on previous years. Thus Europe faces the enormous challenge of coping with many people searching for a place of refuge – a place where they can live in peace and security.

This is the type of challenge that the tiny country of Israel has confronted for many years. Since the declaration of Israel’s independence in 1948, it is thought to have received more than 3.5 million refugees as many Jews have made ‘Aliyah’ to escape anti-Semitism. That represents a significant proportion of the population of just over 8 million in 2014.

But it would be a mistake for those of us outside of Israel to think that making Aliyah and integrating into Israeli society is necessarily easy for Jewish people. According to an article on i24 News, some people believe that they will be accepted when they set out for Israel, but then encounter a somewhat different attitude when they arrive.

So perhaps this ‘migrant crisis’ represents an opportunity for those of us who live in Europe to grow in understanding of one of the many challenges that have faced the people of Israel for decades.