The five mems…writes Asher Kozma

February 25, 2016 by Asher Kozma
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The latest UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) figure shows the number of refugees worldwide as 13 million.

Refugees in crisis

Refugees in crisis

This does not include the 5 million people who the UN Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) classify as Palestine Refugees, which unprecedentedly includes children and grandchildren of those originally counted as refugees. Putting this double-standard aside, the refugee crisis the world encounters today is one of the most pressing we face, both ethically and practically.

If you are an asylum seeker who has fled your home country in fear of your life, and have just arrived at a refugee camp, you will most likely find a new set of lethal threats awaiting you. Guns, missiles, drones and tanks will have been replaced with cholera, malaria, jaundice and hepatitis. Those living in refugee camps are highly susceptible to disease, and with low levels of sanitation and high levels of malnutrition it is not difficult to understand why. The UNHCR recommends that each refugee receive at least than 2,100 calories per day, however aid organisations struggle to meet this quota and people’s immune systems are horribly weak. It is not unheard of for people to fight to death over food.

More contributors to the widespread disease are dampness and mold, which come from the housing provided. Poorly ventilated, overcrowded tents or shacks that do not last more than a few years are most the most common shelter provided, while the average time a refugee spends at a camp is 17 years according to one expert. Winter is a particularly difficult time for refugees as rain, storms and freezing temperatures are prevalent across Europe and Africa which hold vast numbers of refugees. In this recent winter the UNHCR has provided various protection against the elements, such as raincoats, thermal blankets and socks however, as with the food and the shelter, in most camps there is not enough to go around. Every winter refugees die of exposure to the cold.

While fighting to stay alive and combating all the above issues, a young refugee is also likely to be set-back by lack of education. According to the UNHCR only half of all refugee children are enrolled in primary school, and only a quarter are estimated to be in secondary school. A lack of education means that if a refugee is lucky enough to leave a refugee camp and become a citizen of a new country, they will have tremendous difficulty integrating into society. Making a living and starting a family will be almost impossible.

In Hebrew the words food, housing, clothing, education and medical attention all begin with the letter ‘mem’ (mazon, ma’on, malbush, moreh and marpeh respectively). Zionist thinker Ze’ev Jabotinsky is known for his emphasis on Jewish self-defence and militarism, however fewer people are aware of his liberal and humanitarian values. He believed that it was the responsibility of every government to ensure it was in a position provide each of these ‘mems’ to those who had no means of attaining them. He proposed that the government should acquire the amounts needed of each of these from those who have plenty, and levy an additional tax, both of which would be redistributed appropriately in order to address the issue of poverty.

Asher Kozma

Asher Kozma

The refugee issue comes up in our mainstream media now and then, usually triggered by an eye-catching event such as mass people movement or people dying. However as is the nature of the media news becomes old and people become interested in other matters. It is important to remember that unlike stock-market crashes or celebrity scandals, the issue of refugees remains prevalent whether it makes headlines or not. It is not a series of one-off events rather it is millions of people’s lives.

In light of the current refugee crisis, in October 2015 Betar Australia passed a stance acknowledging the plight and suffering of all asylum seekers fleeing persecution. Generally Betar Australia’s stances relate strictly to Israeli or Jewish affairs as we are purely a Zionist movement; however because we adopt Jabotinsky’s ideology as our own and we saw this issue as being directly related to the five mems and thus incredibly relevant.

Betar Australia encourages the governments of both Israel and Australia to do all they can to alleviate the refugee issue the international community faces, both by applying political pressure on the international community and by providing as many of the basic necessities as they can afford to those in need. “Concerning each of these [basic necessities] there exists in every country and in every era a concept of a fair standard. The duty of the state… is to provide each needy person the five mems”.

Asher Kozma is the Rosh Hanagah Artzit (Federal Director) of Betar Australia.


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