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The Safety of Rwanda Bill Returning to the House of Lords –  Why Should We Care?

15th April 2024

As the Rwanda Safety Bill is brought back to the House of Lords today, we ask peers to ensure it respects the rule of law and the legacy of human rights. 

When a stranger lives with you in your land, do not ill-treat them. The stranger who lives with you shall be treated like the native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were strangers in the last of Egypt, I am the Lord your God.

Vayikra 19:33-34

Photograph: Vuk Valcic/Zuma Press Wire/REX/Shutterstock

A Response to the Horrors of the Holocaust  

As Jewish people, we have experience of seeking refuge in foreign countries in circumstances where to be sent back would mean certain death.  

As the traumatic extent of the horrors of the Holocaust became known towards the end of the Second World War, so did the understanding that a state must never again be able to perpetrate such horrors against its own people.  

Amongst others, it was Jewish lawyers, who had lost all their family in the Holocaust, who made a major contribution to the international human rights framework that emerged. This was encapsulated in international law in the European Convention of Human Rights and has since been incorporated into UK law through the Human Rights Act. And so, the UK should be engaging with international law, not withdrawing from it.  

A Misrepresentation of the UK Society  

The Rwanda Safety Bill is not only cruel to those seeking asylum and refuge, but it also threatens civil liberties in the UK. Even before the creation of international human rights law, UK society has a history of supporting safe and welcoming ways for refugees fleeing persecution and danger. One of the most famous ‘safe routes’ operated was the Kindertransport, a British scheme to rescue nearly 10,000 predominantly Jewish children from Nazi-occupied territories, where sending them back would mean certain death. This safe route was not operated by the British government but rather by individuals and charities such as World Jewish Relief, who acted as ‘guarantors’. 

This year marks the 85th anniversary of the Kindertransport. We see this as an opportunity to call on the UK government to expand safe and legal routes to the UK instead of forcing refugees and asylum seekers to use illegal methods of reaching safety in the UK.  

The Government’s chaotic and expensive Rwanda plan and new laws means there are already tens of thousands of people from countries such as Afghanistan and Syria who have fled great danger and are now shut out of the asylum system, banned from working, unable to rebuild their lives. The Rwanda scheme would only remove a fraction of these people, with nearly all of them left stuck indefinitely instead of being granted a fair hearing on UK soil.  We are now, as a matter of policy design, creating the next meltdown in the asylum system, with future governments and the taxpayer left to pick up the pieces. It will cause immense human misery and suffering to men, women and children who have faced unimaginable trauma. 

The Rwanda plan it is nothing more than a costly and unworkable gimmick. It will not do anything to fix the Government’s broken asylum system. The only way to do that is to process asylum applications in a fair and timely manner and to develop safe routes to refugee protection.

Enver Solomon, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council

Why Should We Care?

Over the past two decades, the UK’s human rights framework has been continuously weakened by consecutive governments. We are now at a breaking point where further disregard for the welfare and safety of asylum seekers and refugees could see the UK fall out of international treaties and commitments. Britain, which became a safe haven for so many Jewish people escaping persecution, is at risk of losing its reputation as a country that is welcoming to those escaping persecution. The Jewish community, too, is at risk when such inhumane and unnecessary laws as the Rwanda Bill are passed because they embolden hostility to minorities in society.   

As the Bill returns to the House of Lords today, we urge for assurances that the final legislation is compliant with domestic and international law, which reflects the historical attitudes of the UK society. Failure to do so would show disregard for the legacy of the human rights framework. Inspired by the story of Pesach and the journey from destitution to freedom, we must promote a UK that is welcoming and compassionate, not hostile and cruel.