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Stop housing asylum seekers in barracks, rabbis urge Home Secretary

19 rabbis from across the Liberal, Masorti and Reform movements have written to Priti Patel MP, urging her to immediately close former military barracks being used to house asylum seekers.


In the letter, initiated by JCORE (the Jewish Council for Racial Equality), the rabbis state that housing survivors of conflict, torture and war behind barbed wire fences in former Ministry of Defence sites is “completely inappropriate”, and condemn the usage of such accommodation as “a shameful abdication of this country’s humanitarian responsibility.”


They also express their shock at news that warnings from Public Health England about the safety of the barracks during the Covid-19 pandemic were ignored by the Home Office, and say that they are disturbed that such sites have provided “a focal point for far-right activism and intimidation.”


While the rabbis welcome news that a number of residents have recently been moved from Napier barracks, they express their concerns for the welfare of those who remain housed in such accommodation. Urging the Home Secretary to take urgent action to ensure that asylum seekers in the UK can live in dignity, they call for all residents to be moved to suitable housing in the community, and for delays in the asylum system to be addressed to reduce pressures on accommodation.


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


Dear Home Secretary,


As rabbis and members of the Jewish community, we are writing to urge you to immediately end the use of former military barracks as accommodation for asylum seekers.


Such housing is clearly completely inappropriate for survivors of conflict, torture and war, who in the absence of safe and legal routes, have been forced into taking dangerous journeys to reach safety in the UK. Housing vulnerable people behind barbed wire fences in such accommodation presents a severe risk of re-traumatization, and we are deeply saddened to learn that at least four asylum seekers housed at Napier Barracks have attempted suicide.


As a community, the imagery of such sites has also recalled unpleasant memories of the internment of Jewish refugees in this country, and it is disturbing that the barracks have provided a focal point for far-right activism and intimidation. We were also deeply concerned to learn this week that warnings from Public Health England about the safety of the barracks were ignored by the Home Office. Such accommodation is completely unsuitable during a global pandemic, and it is reprehensible that nearly 200 residents of Napier Barracks have tested positive for Covid-19 so far this year.


Although we welcome news in recent days that a number of residents have been relocated from Napier barracks, the continued housing of asylum seekers in these sites cannot be a long-term solution, and we remain concerned about the impact of such accommodation on the welfare of those still housed at Napier and Penally. Leaked documents which reveal that the usage of barracks has been influenced by fears of public prejudice against asylum seekers are a shameful abdication of this country’s humanitarian responsibility, and instead, we call on you to take urgent action to ensure that asylum seekers in this country can live in dignity. As an immediate first step, the barracks must be closed and all residents rehoused in suitable accommodation in the community, with full access to services.


We also urge you to address delays to the asylum system, which have seen a record number of people waiting for a decision on their asylum application. Doing so would ease pressure for accommodation, and allow those who seek refuge in this country to begin rebuilding their lives. This would surely be a mark of a compassionate and forward looking society.


We would welcome the opportunity to meet with you and your officials in the Home Office to discuss the issues raised in this letter further, and look forward to receiving your reply.


Yours sincerely,

Rabbi Dr Barbara Borts Rabbi Howard Cooper Rabbi Janet Darley Rabbi Colin Eimer Rabbi Naomi Goldman Rabbi Aaron Goldstein Rabbi Adam Frankenberg Rabbi Oliver Spike Joseph Rabbi Judith Levitt Rabbi Daniel Lichman Rabbi Jeffrey Newman ​Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah

Rabbi Fabian Sborovsky Rabbi Irit Shillor Rabbi Dr Jackie Tabick Rabbi Roni Tabick Rabbi Alexandra Wright Rabbi Andrea Zanardo