Opinion: Immigration bill’s blanket deportation policy has chilling parallels with the Second World War

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Opinion: Immigration bill’s blanket deportation policy has chilling parallels with the Second World War

If the British Government in 1938 had the same attitudes that Home Secretary Suella Braverman expresses today, then Kindertransport refugee Lord Alf Dubs wouldn't be here to speak to Sam Kahn

Lord Alf Dubs. Credit: Jillian Edelstein
Lord Alf Dubs. Credit: Jillian Edelstein

The Government’s new Illegal Migration Bill has been going through the House of Lords this week. It means that asylum seekers who arrive in the UK but have not come through legal routes, will be deported.

I asked Alf Dubs, a Jewish refugee who travelled to the UK on the Kindertransport about the Bill.

In 1979, against all the odds, he became the Member of Parliament for Battersea South, and later, a Member of the House of Lords.  Would Alf and thousands of others like him have been able to make it to the UK if laws like these were in place in 1938?

Suella Braverman in the Commons

His answer? “Highly unlikely”. Not under this Government’s “hostile policies”, adding that if he wasn’t let into the country: “It would have been death for me”.

When you look back at the debates in Parliament talking about whether to accept Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis, it is the arguments that appeal to our common humanity and to empathy that eventually won out.

In a speech to Parliament in 1938, a Labour MP, Philip Noel-Baker, talked about Joseph Goebbels, the chief propagandist for the Nazi Party, who had said that the outside world would soon forget the German Jews.

Noel-Baker told the House: “He hopes in vain. His campaign against them will go down in history with St. Batholomew’s Eve as a lasting memory of human shame. Let there go with it another memory, the memory of what the other nations did to wipe the shame away.”

Despite strong opposition, his speech, and the speeches of many courageous others, won the debate. It led to the British Government allowing the transportation of Jewish children into Britain under the Kinder Transport.

Sam Kahn, LinkedIn

I struggle to see any of the same sentiments when I look at Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary.

Just look at some of the arguments that Braverman has been using. She said: “I think that the people coming here illegally do possess values which are at odds with our country. We are seeing heightened levels of criminality when related to the people who’ve come on boats related to drug-dealing, exploitation, prostitution.”

Hearing that quote, Alf could not contain himself from interrupting and saying “lies”. He thought that it was a “disgrace”.

It is a terrifying realisation that if the Government in 1938 had the same attitudes that Braverman expresses today, then Alf never would have been let into the UK.

But it is more than just language. The Government’s Illegal Migration Bill would mean that anyone who arrives in the UK and has not come under one of the few legal routes that the Government have introduced, will be deported to another country.

It applies a blanket deportation policy to asylum seekers, regardless of how legitimate their asylum claim is.

There is another parallel here with Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, some of whom fled to British mandated Palestine under similar illegal routes.


In July 1947, a ship dubbed the ‘Exodus’, carrying 4,500 Jewish refugees, mostly Holocaust survivors,  set sail for Palestine. When they arrived, they were turned away and sent back because they did not come through an official application process.

That is exactly the same policy that is being implemented here. Instead of processing asylum seekers, taking in the people who have legitimate claims and deporting those who do not, the Bill deports anyone on a blanket basis, just like the ‘Exodus’ ship.

We should oppose the Illegal Migration Bill and we should oppose the hostile language that this Government has used to talk about refugees.

  • Sam Kahn is a Senior Parliamentary Assistant
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