It is well established that some of the most vulnerable people in the world are refugees, asylum seekers and stateless peoples. Fleeing conditions of great harm (e.g. war or persecution), they have lost everything apart from their humanity, and are left with no rights but human rights. It was following the horrors of the Holocaust that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) was enshrined alongside the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Refugee Convention).
Throughout history, Jewish people have been forced to seek asylum from persecution many times. We believe that the British public, and the Jewish community, have an important stake in maintaining a domestic protection system for vulnerable minority groups, including refugees and asylum seekers.
The current UK’s attitude towards refugees, asylum seekers and migrants can be described as ‘hostile’ and in breach of the UK’s obligations under international law (e.g. Refugee Convention) and basic values of humanity, dignity and respect.
In response to the current war in Ukraine and the emerging humanitarian and refugee crisis, the UK was slow to respond with measures that are compatible with both legal and moral obligations.
The case of Ukrainian refugees trying to enter the UK
More than 2.6 million people have now fled Ukraine because of the Russian invasion, according to the United Nations. The EU believes the number of refugees in total could climb to seven million.
Majority of them were taken in by neighboring countries including Poland (more than half), Hungary, Slovakia, Moldova, Romania and some also left for Russia and Belarus.
- The starting point is that Ukrainians need a visa to enter the UK.
- In the 19 days since the invasion began, the British government’s response to the refugee crisis has been confused, slow and until yesterday, inadequate.
- Initially, UK policy was restricted to only allowing Ukrainians to enter if they have immediate family members settles in the UK. Now the scheme has been widened, allowing individuals and/or organisations to sponsor refugees through the Home for Ukraine scheme.
- Under the Homes for Ukraine scheme people in the UK will be able to nominate an individual or family to stay with them rent-free, or in another property, for at least six months, i.e. hosts can only take in refugees if they know their name. Hosts will receive £350 a month.
- Applications are made online, and both hosts and refugees will be vetted. Applications for refugee visas open on Friday.
- This scheme is uncapped but refugees would have the right to remain for only three years. During this time, refugees will have full access to employment, healthcare, housing and education.
- Ukrainian refugees are advised to apply at a Visa Application Centre (VAC) in countries including Poland, Romania, Hungary and Moldova.
Other ways you can help
If you are unable to host a refugee, another way to provide support is by donating to all the incredible initiatives on the ground providing immediate support to Ukrainian refugees, including:
World Jewish Relief
Israaid – Humanitarian organisation
Ukraine Take Shelter – an independent platform connecting Ukrainian refugees with potential hosts and housing
Refugees at home – UK based organisation coordinating between hosts and refugees (not Ukraine specific)
The bigger picture – the UK’s immigration and asylum policy
On a wider scale, the UK’s Nationality and Borders Bill, being debated in Parliament, represents the biggest attack on the refugee protection system the UK has ever seen and will close the door to desperate people who arrive in the UK to seek safety. It illustrates a broader consolidation of a hostile environment to migration, as it criminalises people forced to take irregular journeys to find safety; it undermines fair hearing for asylum seekers and proposes an inhumane system of off-shore indefinite immigration detention. Further information about the Bill available here.
Key concerns – Nationality and Borders Bill
- The Bill distorts the definition of the word ‘refugee’ so that it no longer meets the standards of international law (including the 1951 Refugee Convention) or, as a result, of individuals seeking sanctuary on our shores (this is of vital and growing importance to the Jewish community, Jewish history, and Jewish values).
- “An expedited process for claims and appeals made from detention” completely undermines the rights of asylum seekers to access the justice system and legal representation- this goes against commitments to justice, fairness and due process. A similar system ruled unlawful in 2015 was reported by asylum seekers to be soul destroying and really damaging to their mental health
- A two-tier asylum system where those who arrive ‘unsafely’ are criminalised despite facing persecution and hardship: this is inhumane, ineffective and unlawful
- The plans to set up offshore processing of asylum seekers is traumatic and harmful, and ‘others’ asylum seekers, already marginalised by economic and cultural barriers and societal prejudice. It also fails to comply with the UK’s legal obligations of non-discrimination and non-penalisation, important to mention here given your new equalities brief.
Our asks on the Bill
Build on René Cassin’s and other community led initiatives via our action page, and Use our letter to write to your MP about the Nationality and Borders Bill and treatment of Ukrainian refugees. Broadly, we are asking for the following:
- The complete removal of clause 11, which criminalises refugees because of how they arrive here, regardless of what they are fleeing
- The complete removal of clause 9 which can strip certain people of citizenship without notice
- To pass amendments 9,10 and 11, supported by David Davis MP and Caroline Nokes MP, which remove the Bill’s powers to enable offshore asylum processing