25 rabbis write to Priti Patel protesting ‘deeply unethical’ asylum policies
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25 rabbis write to Priti Patel protesting ‘deeply unethical’ asylum policies

Letter signed by Reform, Liberal and Masorti rabbis gets backing of kindertransport refugee and family reunification campaigner Lord Dubs

Tali is a reporter at Jewish News

Priti Patel speaking at Jewish News-BICOM's Israel Policy Conference
Priti Patel speaking at Jewish News-BICOM's Israel Policy Conference

A group of 25 progressive rabbis have written to the Home Secretary Priti Patel protesting her policies towards asylum seekers.

In the letter initiated by the Jewish Council for Racial Equality (JCORE), signed by faith leaders from the Reform, Liberal and Masorti movements, the rabbis express concerns over reports of “deeply unethical” treatment. This includes a claim that Priti Patel asked officials to look into the idea of processing asylum seekers offshore on Ascension Island, an isolated volcanic British territory.

The policies were criticised by refugee campaigner Lord Alf Dubs, who came to the UK on the kindertransport. He said Britain’s stance towards asylum seekers is a “kick in the teeth” for those seeking family reunification.

While the rabbis welcomed the Home Secretary’s past calls for reform of the asylum process, they said they are “appalled” refugees from war are being housed in converted former army barracks on arrival in the UK.

Criticising the decision of the Home Office to resume evicting those with negative asylum decisions, the rabbis warned it “pushes vulnerable people into homelessness and destitution during a pandemic which has disproportionately impact black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) communities.”

The letter, written in the wake of Sukkot, which they stress as a Jewish holiday with its roots in sanctuary and shelter, urges the Home Secretary  to provide migrants with safe and legal routes to the UK.

Calling on the home secretary to reopen asylum and refugee resettlement schemes, which have been closed since March because of coronavirus, the rabbis ask Priti Patel to support Lord Dubs’ family reunification amendment to the Immigration Bill, which would ensure asylum-seekers could join their relatives in the UK.

Lord Dubs, whose amendment passed by 94 votes in the House of Lords last week, leaving the amended bill to return to the House of Commons, told the Jewish News “I greatly appreciate all of the rabbis’ clear support.

“Throughout our campaign on behalf of child refugees, faith groups, especially the jewish community, have been incredibly supportive.”

He said: “I would tell Priti Patel that I’m sorry, but her policies are quite wrong. They are a kick in the teeth for family reunification and a kick in the teeth for young people who deserve safety”. He warned the government: “If we do not achieve some sort of agreement before the Brexit transition period ends, there will no arrangements for family reunification.

The group of 25 rabbis ended their letter by asking the Home Secretary to not use any inflammatory rhetoric against asylum seekers or those defending their legal rights: “During a time of national crisis and increasing tensions, avoiding such divisive politics is crucial.”

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