Nationality and Borders Bill is not in our name, rabbis and communal organisations tell government

More than 40 rabbis and communal organisations have signed a statement urging the government to reconsider its Nationality and Borders Bill, ahead of a key vote on the legislation in the House of Commons this Tuesday.


Initiated by the Jewish Council for Racial Equality (JCORE), the statement follows a number of important victories against the bill in the House of Lords earlier this month.


After a campaign which saw many members of the Jewish community strongly oppose the bill’s proposals, peers rejected clauses which enabled the differential treatment of refugees and the use of offshore asylum processing. Crucially, they also approved an amendment led by Lord Dubs, which would create a new safe route to the UK for unaccompanied child refugees in Europe.


As the bill returns to the House of Commons on March 22nd, the signatories, which include 34 rabbis from across the community, state that “unless it is amended, this legislation and its attack on refugee rights cannot be in our name.”


Emphasising that Torah instructs us to welcome the stranger 36 times, they compel the government to rethink proposals in the bill which would criminalize and restrict the rights of many refugees arriving outside of official routes.


And highlighting how our community’s long history and experience of displacement has made “the heart-breaking recent images of refugees fleeing Ukraine… particularly resonant”, they also urge MPs to support an amendment creating safe routes to resettle at least 10,000 refugees in the UK each year.


Expressing concerns that its proposals would “violate international law introduced following the horrors of the Holocaust and the Second World War”, the statement concludes by asserting that “as it stands, this bill flies in the face of Jewish values of justice and fairness”, and must urgently be reconsidered.


Rabbis signing the statement include Charley Baginsky, Chief Executive of Liberal Judaism, Rabbi Herschel Gluck OBE, Rabbi Dr Jackie Tabick, Convenor of Reform Judaism’s Beit Din and Jonathan Wittenberg, Senior Rabbi of Masorti Judaism UK.


Organisations signing the statement include the Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR), the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) and World Jewish Relief. Please see below for the full text of the statement and list of signatories.


Dr Edie Friedman, Executive Director at the Jewish Council for Racial Equality (JCORE), said: “The horrific recent scenes in Ukraine further underline the importance of safe routes for refugees escaping violence and tyranny. It is therefore appalling that the government is continuing to push through legislation which would criminalize many refugees fleeing to the UK.


Our community has made its voice clear: the Nationality and Borders Bill’s attack on refugee rights cannot be in our name. The government must listen and take this opportunity to rethink. The incredible recent public solidarity and support for Ukrainian refugees has disputed arguments that regressive refugee policies are what British voters want. MPs should use this chance to reflect public opinion, and vote tomorrow to back amendments which would ensure refugees are welcomed, and treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”


Communal statement on refugee protection and the Nationality and Borders Bill


“As rabbis and British Jewish organisations, we are united by strong values which commit us to defending the rights of refugees and asylum seekers. In Torah, we are urged no less than 36 times to welcome the stranger.

Our community’s long history and experience of displacement further compels us to act for those seeking sanctuary today. Many British Jews have parents or grandparents who fled to the UK in search of safety, and the heart-breaking recent images of refugees fleeing Ukraine have been particularly resonant for us.

It is critical to our community that this country protects those escaping conflict and persecution. For this reason, we urge the government to reconsider its Nationality and Borders Bill when it returns to the House of Commons. While we share a desire to reform the UK’s asylum system and make it fairer, this bill’s proposals surely cannot be the way to do so.

In particular, we remain alarmed that:

  • Clauses in the bill would criminalize refugees forced to take dangerous routes to this country, including those escaping the conflict in Ukraine.

  • The bill’s proposals grant the government powers to return those fleeing to the UK outside of official schemes to so-called ‘safe third countries’.

  • If implemented, this legislation would violate international law introduced following the horrors of the Holocaust and the Second World War. Had this bill been in place at the time, it seems likely that many Jewish refugees fleeing mainland Europe in the 20th century would have been prevented from receiving protections in the UK.

Furthermore, we are also deeply concerned that the bill leaves open options for “offshoring” asylum seekers. This prospect brings back disturbing memories of the overseas internment of Jewish refugees during the Second World War. Australia’s usage of an offshore asylum processing system has been a human rights and reputational disaster – we strongly urge the government to reconsider emulating this model.

When the bill returns to the House of Commons, we instead call for the government to:

  • Remove Clause 11, and abandon plans to treat refugees differently, depending on their method of entry to this country.

  • Remove clauses which enable the offshore processing of refugees.

  • Lift the ban and grant the right to work to asylum-seekers whose cases have not been heard for six months.

The terrible and horrific scenes witnessed in Ukraine, following Russia's invasion, have further underlined the critical need to provide safe routes for those fleeing violence and tyranny. We therefore also encourage the government to:

  • Honour the humanitarian spirit of the Kindertransport by backing Lord Dubs’ amendment to introduce a new safe route to the UK for unaccompanied child refugees in Europe.

  • Introduce an annual target to resettle at least 10,000 refugees.

As it stands, this bill flies in the face of Jewish values of justice and fairness. Unless it is amended, this legislation and its attack on refugee rights cannot be in our name.”

Signed by

The Jewish Council for Racial Equality (JCORE) The Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR) Conference of Liberal Rabbis and Cantors Jewish Labour Movement Movement for Reform Judaism Noam Masorti Youth LJY-Netzer René Cassin UJS World Jewish Relief

Rabbi Charley Baginsky

Rabbi Rachel Benjamin

Rabbi Dr Barbara Borts

Rabbi Janet Burden

Rabbi Howard Cooper

Rabbi Janet Darley

Rabbi Colin Eimer

Rabbi Warren Elf MBE

Rabbi Adam Frankenberg

Rabbi Paul Freedman

Rabbi Ariel J Friedlander

Herschel Gluck OBE

Rabbi Naomi Goldman

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein

Rabbi Dr. Margaret Jacobi

Rabbi Richard Jacobi

Rabbi Neil Janes

Rabbi Oliver Spike Joseph

Student Rabbi Gabriel Kanter-Webber

Rabbi Sandra Kviat

Rabbi Daniel Lichman

Rabbi Natasha Mann

Rabbi Monique Mayer

Rabbi Lea Mühlsteon

Rabbi Jeffrey Newman

Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild

Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah

Rabbi Zahavit Shalev

Rabbi Dr Jackie Tabick

Larry Tabick

Rabbi Roni Tabick

Rabbi Daniela Thau

Rabbi Lee Wax

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg