Home Secretary Priti Patel’s controversial proposal to send unauthorised asylum seekers to Rwanda has provoked strong criticism in some quarters of the Jewish community — though not everyone is convinced that the policy will be enacted.
Ms Patel, speaking after the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, said her plans would help put an end to the “deadly trade” of people-trafficking and also the “deeply unfair” current situation that “advantages those with the means to pay people-traffickers over vulnerable people who cannot”. She also deplored critics who judged the policy without offering a viable alternative.
But World Jewish Relief, Anglo-Jewry’s principal body dealing with refugees, tweeted angrily against the proposals on Friday. WJR said: “We are deeply concerned by today’s news of government plans to send asylum seekers to be processed in Rwanda. People arriving in the UK after fleeing the horrors of war and persecution deserve a fair hearing on British soil”.
And rabbis from the four major denominations in the UK — Orthodox, Masorti, Reform and Liberal — put their names to an open letter in Friday’s Guardian, headed by JCORE director Dr Edie Friedman. Rabbis David Mason, Jonathan Wittenberg, Jackie Tabick and Alexandra Wright said they were “utterly appalled” by what they described as the government’s “inhumane plans”, which they said flew in the face of Jewish values, and “would be a cruel, moral failure to those in urgent need of protections”.
The rabbis said they were “particularly disturbed” at the timing of the announcement, on the eve of Passover. “It is deeply unsettling that the government is seeking to deprive the opportunity of freedom to those fleeing modern-day tyrants”, they said, adding that such proposals brought to mind “unpleasant memories of the overseas internment of Jewish refugees in the Second World War”.
Some communal organisations are holding fire, as the policy is under discussion in the higher echelons of Whitehall, not currently convinced that the Rwanda scheme will actually be enacted. But there has already been government pushback after outspoken criticism by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, making the possibility slightly higher that Ms Patel might get her way.
Israel opened an embassy in Kigali in 2019 and in the same year Rwanda welcomed a Chabad representative, Rabbi Chaim Bar Sella. Reports suggest that between 2014 and 2017, Israel sent several thousand asylum seekers to both Rwanda and Uganda, under a contentious and secretive “voluntary” scheme. Few are believed to have remained there, with many trying to reach Europe.
Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.
For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.
Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.
You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.
100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...
Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.
There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.
In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.
Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.
In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.
Voice of our community to wider society
The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.
We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.