As we celebrate Hanukkah with messages of light and hope, our thoughts are also with those seeking sanctuary on our shores. And particularly the men, women and children who, having battled the dark and cold of the English Channel, find themselves swept into the living nightmare of the UK’s asylum system.
In recent weeks, René Cassin has been putting those thoughts into action:
- On Sunday 6 November, we co-ordinated a Jewish presence at the protest at the notorious Manston Migration Centre in Kent
- Earlier this month we encouraged local Jewish communities to join faith leaders and grassroots campaigners at a monthly vigil to show support for the women detained inhumanely at Derwentside detention centre in County Durham. If you would like to get involved in solidarity actions at Derwentside or other detention centres get in touch with us by emailing [email protected]
- Last week, we responded in detail to the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights inquiry into the UK’s asylum system, which aims to identify human rights concerns. Our submission highlighted the lack of safe and legal routes available to asylum-seekers, the cruelty of indefinite detention, and the inhumanity of threatening trafficked migrants with deportation to Rwanda.
In the light of our submission, we are very disappointed with Monday’s High Court decision that the Rwanda policy is lawful. We have pointed out that the Rwanda policy damages the UK’s reputation for valuing compassion, fairness and human dignity.
The experience of migrant women, many of them trafficked, was the subject of our online event – Roma Women Speak Up: joy in a hostile environment – on 8 December. Roma activists, Rosamaria Cisneros and Yassmin Vilcekova spoke with Jewish activist Professor Margaret Greenfield in René Cassin’s contribution to the global campaign 16 days of Activism on violence against women.
Many migrants are trafficked or become susceptible to modern slavery in the UK’s hostile environment. This autumn, we produced a detailed briefing on these issues, outlining the stark facts, the deficiencies of the UK’s policy response, why Jews should be particularly concerned, and what the community could do in response. We reiterated these key points via social media to mark Anti-Slavery Week in October.
Slavery is a global issue, of course. Nowhere is this more evident than in China – where forced labour forms part of a catalogue of repression meted out to Muslim Uyghurs by the state. For more information, and ideas about what you can do, see our Hanukkah Call to Action
Across the world, civil society is mobilising to demand that governments take action to prevent genocide against the Uyghurs – last month, I updated delegates on our work at the International Uyghur Forum in Brussels.
René Cassin takes its name from the French-Jewish co-author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Along with fellow Jews Raphael Lemkin, whose work led to the Genocide Convention, and Hersch Lauterpacht, who developed the legal concept of crimes against humanity, Cassin crafted the post-war international human rights framework built to protect humanity from the horrors of authoritarian repression.
We celebrated that unique and vital Jewish legacy in our extensive Human Rights Shabbat resource on International Human Rights Day – 10 December, the 74th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration.
But we must do more than celebrate – for this precious legacy is currently under attack. The government plans to repeal the UK’s Human Rights Act – a direct descendent of the Universal Declaration – and replace it with a weaker British Bill of Rights. As part of a wide coalition of charities and NGOs, we are continuing our campaign to Save the Human Rights Act.
We don’t just work to celebrate and protect the Universal Declaration, we also want to ensure its enlightened measures are realised in full. But 74 years on, and in a country immeasurably richer, it is scandalous that so many people are having to choose between heating and eating.
On 19 November we marked Mitzvah Day by releasing a short film outlining what we can all do to support a Right to Food in UK law. And we will bring that same message to this year’s Limmud Festival. Our Jewish Voices Beyond the Food Bank session is at 3.20pm on Tuesday 27 December – I hope you can join us!
None of the work outlined above would be possible without the help of our supporters. Please make a donation today to ensure a Jewish voice for human rights is heard loud and clear.