49 rabbis urge Boris Johnson u-turn on Bill ‘punishing’ asylum seekers

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49 rabbis urge Boris Johnson u-turn on Bill ‘punishing’ asylum seekers

Jewish leaders join over 1,000 Christian, Muslim and other religious leaders including former archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams in signing strongly worded letter to the Prime Minister

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Rabbi David Mason alongside faith leaders, protesting the bill
Rabbi David Mason alongside faith leaders, protesting the bill

Forty-Nine UK rabbis have joined over 1,000 British faith leaders urging Boris Johnson make urgent changes to a controversial immigration bill, saying it “punishes vulnerable asylum seekers.”

The Nationality and Borders Bill has been criticized for effectively disqualifying asylum seekers from consideration as refugees if they come on “unsanctioned” or “irregular” routes.

It is currently in the report stage in the House of Lords and will have its final vote in the Upper Chamber this week.

In a letter to Johnson, leaders from Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist backgrounds said the Bill will “fundamentally damage the values that bind UK citizens together.”

“Criminalising and punishing vulnerable asylum seekers who have little choice but to arrive in the UK through ‘irregular routes’, when the majority are subsequently able to prove that they have a legitimate basis for their asylum claim, is a disgraceful and dishonourable policy, and should be abandoned,” the faith leaders wrote.

Signatories include the senior rabbi of Masorti Judaism, Jonathan Wittenberg, Rabbi Charley Baginsky, CEO of Liberal Judaism, Rabbi Dr Deborah Kahn-Harris, Principal, Leo Baeck College, Rabbi Miriam Berger, Senior Rabbi, Finchley Reform Synagogue, Rabbi Jeremy Gordon, New London Synagogue, and Rabbi David Mason, Rabbi at Muswell Hill Orthodox Synagogue.

They joined prominent religious figures who signed the letter, including [ and the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, Zara Mohammed.

The letter called on the PM to make last minute changes to the bill – including abandoning the government’s plan to criminalise and restrict the rights of all people arriving in the UK seeking refugee protection outside pre-arranged schemes, including those coming via irregular routes, such as by boats or lorries.

It urged the Prime Minister to look in particular at Clause 11 of the Bill which “sets out the differential treatment of refugees.”

The letter stated: “This separation of refugees into ‘Group 1’ or ‘Group 2’ undermines the longstanding and widely understood expectation that a person’s asylum application is decided on the individual merits of their case and whether they would face serious threats to their life or freedom if they were not to be granted refugee status.

“The artificial manufacture of a two-tier system creates two different classes of refugees.

“This would not be based on needs or merits but would depend on the ability of a person to arrive in the UK via a ‘regular’ route of travel.

“This is a clear breach of the principles of the Refugee Convention, and we have seen no credible evidence that it will stop irregular migration across the English Channel; it is therefore, policy made without a basis in evidence or morality.”

A Home Office spokesperson defended the bill, saying “The Nationality and Borders Bill … will deliver the most comprehensive reform in decades.

“For the first time, we will be able to differentiate between those who arrive here through safe and legal routes and those who arrive here having had the opportunity to claim asylum already in a safe country.”

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