Board of Deputies statement on the Government’s Nationality and Borders Bill

The Nationality and Borders Bill returns to the Commons for two days of scrutiny this week. Ahead of the debate, the Board of Deputies has prepared the following statement.

“The Board of Deputies of British Jews has long maintained a clear position relating to the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.

Many people in the Jewish community came to the UK as frightened and vulnerable young children – some on the Kindertransport – and were welcomed into this country. Perhaps for that reason, our community expect that other communities in need receive the same treatment.

While we certainly share the Government’s desire to break the business model of people smugglers who profit from trafficking vulnerable human beings, there are a number of aspects of the proposed legislation that cause us concern.

We set out some concerns in a joint statement[1] with fellow Jewish organisations JCORE, Rene Cassin, and World Jewish Relief earlier this year. And we reiterate some of these points again here.

  1. We remain alarmed at the proposal that helping an asylum seeker enter the UK will no longer need to be “for gain” to attract criminal liability. This is problematic, as there are many heroic people in history, such as the late Sir Nicholas Winton MBE, and in the present day, such as the many volunteers and charities who assist asylum seekers, whose actions could be prohibited by this law.
  2. We are concerned by the proposal to allow the UK to be able to send asylum seekers to a safe third country and to submit claims at a designated place determined by the Secretary of State, which might be modelled on the Australian system of “offshore processing” for asylum seekers. We suggest that this highly controversial Australian system would not be a desirable model to emulate.
  3. The proposed legislation appears to criminalise anyone who arrives in the UK through an irregular route, with no provision for people to claim asylum. We share the concerns set out by the Law Society[2], that such proposals may breach our international obligations enshrined in the Refugee Convention, which recognises that people fleeing persecution may have to use irregular means – such as by boat – to travel to safety and should not be penalised for this.

We ask that these concerns be given due consideration by the Government as the Bill makes its journey through Parliament. The Jewish community, of course, will agree with the Government’s wish to increase the fairness of our system so we can protect and support those in genuine need of asylum. We will be requesting a meeting with a Home Office Minister to raise these important concerns.”

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