Senior Reform Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner has said the UK has to help the hundreds of thousands of refugees already in Europe, instead of just working with those in camps in the Middle East.

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Rabbi Laura speaking to one of the residents

Her call to “be part of a coordinated international response” came as she toured the so-called ‘Calais Jungle’ over Succot with an imam from Leeds.

The network of shelters temporarily housing refugees on France’s north coast shows signs of a “semi-permanent structure,” she said, as those fleeing Afghanistan, Sudan, Eritrea and Syria wait to get into Britain.

“I admire the resilience and kindness of these people,” she said, during her tour alongside Imam Qari Muhammad Asim from Leeds Makkah Mosque.

“Many offered to provide us with dinner. They never intended to put down roots like this, but they are in legal limbo. They cannot legally apply for asylum in Britain, but some see no other option.” 

She added: “Britain is not an island; we have to be part of a coordinated international response and work kindly with the hundreds of thousands of refugees already in Europe, searching for a sustainable, safe future.” 

A Reform spokesman said: “A key activity of the Jewish festival of Succot is to build temporary shelters. It provides Jews with a way to engage with the issue of refugees and the fragility of the shelter afforded to those in Calais.”

Left, Imam Qari Muhammad Asim from Leeds Makkah Mosque, with Rabbi Laura on the right

Left, Imam Qari Muhammad Asim from Leeds Makkah Mosque, with Rabbi Laura on the right

Imam Asim said: “It’s heart-wrenching to see people living is such dire conditions. We’re out here to find out why they have travelled up to 6,000 miles to get here. They’re fleeing violence and persecution. We’ve seen signs of torture on some. They’re not economic migrants. They’ve left behind families. Parents don’t want their children growing up in this atmosphere.” 

He added: “It’s fantastic that there is so much humanitarian aid but we need a legal solution to the crisis and that requires co-ordination. The asylum-seeking process needs to be streamlined.”

About 20 young adults from Masorti Judaism’s Marom branch are going to Calais on Thursday, returning after Shabbat. 

Matthew Anisfeld from Marom said: “Succot is a festival where we tap into our history as refugees, we think about the time we left an oppressed land and found ourselves in a position of instability. So when there are refugees on our doorstep in a similar situation, it seems to be that we are called upon to act.” 

He added that the group were going to help them build shelters and provide resources. “I did a recce last week,” he said. “It really felt like the description in the Torah, of the Jews in the wilderness.”