Anti-Refugee Bill is “not in our name”, rabbis tell Home Secretary

Ahead of the Nationality and Borders Bill’s return to parliament for Report Stage today (7th December), 28 rabbis from across the community have written to Priti Patel MP to condemn its “shameful attack on refugee rights”.


In the letter, coordinated by the Jewish Council for Racial Equality (JCORE), the rabbis assert that the bill’s punitive measures, which would create a two-tier asylum system and restrict the rights of many refugees arriving outside of official routes, “strongly negate our Jewish values of justice and fairness.”


They also urge the Home Secretary to remove “deeply damaging plans” within the bill which leave open future options for offshore asylum processing, highlighting that Torah instructs us to welcome the stranger 36 times.


And they express profound concern that the bill “will do nothing to prevent asylum seekers from being forced into undertaking such dangerous journeys, and will merely result in further misery for those in need of sanctuary”.


While the rabbis state that they agree that the UK’s asylum system is in need of urgent reform, they call on the Home Secretary to do this in a “a compassionate, workable and forward thinking manner.”


Compelling the Home Secretary to scrap the bill’s cruel plans, they instead call for the government to immediately expand and open safe routes for refugees, to ensure that the preventable, tragic deaths of 27 people in the Channel last month are never repeated.


The letter forms part of a wider campaign by JCORE against the bill, which has also seen members of the Jewish community encouraged to write to their MPs in opposition of its proposals, and the charity’s Executive Director, Dr Edie Friedman, write to all Jewish parliamentarians yesterday, urging them to oppose the bill as a “Jewish duty to refugees”.


The full text of the open letter can be found below:


Dear Home Secretary,


Re: The Nationality and Border Bill’s shameful attack on refugee rights: Not in our name


As rabbis, we are writing to you to express our, and many within our community’s, deep concern and dismay at the Nationality and Borders Bill’s proposals, which strongly negate our Jewish values of justice and fairness.


Recently, we have celebrated the festival of Chanukah. As members of a community with a long experience of seeking refuge, it must be our duty to shine a light on the injustice facing refugees and asylum seekers today.


In late November, we shared your profound sorrow and grief following the tragic, preventable deaths of 27 people in the Channel. None of us ever want to see a repeat of such tragedy again.


However, by failing to increase, open or expand safe routes, the Nationality and Borders Bill will do nothing to prevent asylum seekers from being forced into undertaking such dangerous journeys, and will merely result in further misery for those in need of sanctuary.


As your Government’s own equality impact assessment has found, an approach utilizing “increased security and deterrence” could encourage further perilous journeys to the UK, and evidence of such approaches’ effectiveness is limited.


We are particularly disturbed that, if passed, the bill will cruelly divide refugees based on their method of entry to the UK, and would enable those forced into dangerous routes to be returned to so-called ‘safe third countries’.


Many within our community are the children or grandchildren of refugees who would have likely been denied entry to the UK under such proposals, which seemingly violate international law introduced as a consequence of the horrors of the Second World War.


In Torah, we are instructed to welcome the stranger 36 times. As such, we cannot countenance deeply damaging plans within the bill which leave open options for the future development of offshore asylum processing centres. In Australia, this system has resulted in horrific human rights abuses and violations, and has failed to reduce crossings at great ethical and financial expense.


Instead, to stand up for those in desperate need of protections today, we urge you to remove the bill’s clauses enabling differential treatment of refugees, and its powers to enable offshore asylum processing, and instead call for you to immediately expand and open safe routes. This must include urgently operationalising the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS), and committing as government to backing an annual target of resettling a further 10,000 refugees.


We also ask you to retract, or justify, your claim that 70% of those seeking to cross the Channel are economic migrants, which has been challenged by analysis by the Refugee Council showing a majority are likely to have been fleeing conflict.


Such language fans the flames of division and politics of hate, and brings to mind the unpleasant delegitimisation and criminalization of Jewish refugees arriving in this country earlier in the 20th century.


We are in agreement that the UK’s asylum system is broken and in need of urgent reform. However, this must be done in a compassionate, workable and forward thinking manner, and we urge you to scrap the punitive measures of the Nationality and Borders Bill.


We would be very happy to meet with you to further discuss the issues raised in this letter, and look forward to receiving your reply.


Yours sincerely,

Rabbi Rachel Benjamin

Rabbi Rebecca Birk

Rabbi Dr Barbara Borts

Rabbi Janet Burden

Rabbi Warren Elf MBE

Rabbi Adam Frankenberg

Rabbi Ariel J Friedlander

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein

Rabbi Dr. Margaret Jacobi

Rabbi Richard Jacobi

Rabbi Oliver Spike Joseph

Rabbi D Kada

Rabbi Dr Deborah Kahn-Harris

Rabbi Sandra Kviat

Rabbi Judith Levitt

Rabbi Daniel Lichman

Rabbi David Mason

Rabbi Rene Pfertzel

Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild

Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah

Rabbi Sybil Sheridan

Rabbi Mark L Solomon

Rabbi Jackie Tabick

Rabbi Larry Tabick

Rabbi Roni Tabick

Rabbi Daniela Thau

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg

Rabbi Alexandra Wright