Making the Jewish Case for Human Rights – Asylum and Detention

Throughout history, the ability to seek refuge has been essential to Jewish survival. However, in the UK today, those seeking refuge can be indefinitely locked up in immigration detention centres in a system which is inhumane, unjust and ineffective. René Cassin argues for a time limit on immigration detention and makes the case for alternatives to detention, which could improve the lives of detainees, and make the system operate more effectively and with less cost.

René Cassin is an integral part of the nationwide Detention Forum, which campaigns for the introduction of a 28-day time limit on immigration detention. Detention Forum have acknowledged that we have brought, uniquely, both a strong Jewish voice for reform in immigration detention and a powerful interfaith unity on the issue.

Working with Jewish and Interfaith partners

Interfaith event in Parliament

Our strong relationship with Tzelem, a group of Rabbis active in social and economic justice in the UK, has allowed us to amplify the Jewish view and experience on asylum and detention. A joint Parliamentary event in 2016 brought more than 80 people to Parliament to highlight the issues and argue for change to the system of indefinite detention.

Our Interfaith Tent

René Cassin welcomed Bishops, Imams and Rabbis to our ‘Interfaith Tent’ outside Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre as part of the national ‘Time for a Time Limit’ campaign. The united interfaith call for reform which emerged from this gathering of faith leaders received coverage in the national press.

Comparing Jewish and non-Jewish experiences of detention

René Cassin takes responsibility for telling the stories of those held in the dehumanising immigration detention system. We have shared the stories of recent Jewish refugees and migrants to the UK, including ‘Yuri’, who was given leave to remain in Britain only after thirteen years and eight court cases, and Amir Siman-Tov, who sadly died in detention.

Their stories exemplify experiences suffered every year by over 30,000 immigration detainees in one of the UK’s 10 immigration detention centres.

We often bring together Jewish and non-Jewish migrants to share their experiences of indefinite detention at the hands of the UK Government. Berlin-born Fritz Lustig, a Jewish internee in 1940, spoke alongside our partners Detention Action and Freed Voices UK at Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue’s Mitzvah day event.

Together, those speaking had cumulatively lost over 20 years in UK immigration detention centres.

We have also shared the stories of Yuri, Amir, Fritz, and the thousands of contemporary migrants and refugees to the UK to show the human reality that lies behind the statistics.

“The promise of this young man’s life is darkened by unjust imprisonment and a daily diet of uncertainty about his future.”

Rabbi Alexandra Wright, on meeting Deepak at Harmondsworth

A fully-trained Jewish Visitors Group

Dozens of volunteers applied to join René Cassin’s first Jewish Visitors Group. We have trained our first group of seven visitors. They will be visiting people of all faiths and nationalities within detention centres across the UK.

Our lobbying and advocacy

For many years now, René Cassin has presented Government and Parliament with the case for a more humane asylum system. Our primary concern is to advocate for a 28-day limit on immigration detention. We have participated in every significant Parliamentary and Government consultation of the past few years, most notably the 2015 All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees’ report into immigration, and the Government’s Shaw Reviews of 2015 and 2018.

The evidence we present is informed by our Jewish experience of immigration. As well as our historic experience as refugees from discrimination or persecution, we also report on the insights of many synagogues in supporting refugees seeking asylum in the UK. These may consist of the spiritual insight of leading Rabbis and lay leaders, or of oral evidence gathered first hand from ex-detainees using synagogue- based drop-in centres for refugees and ex-detainees.

Immigration was one of the most contentious issues in the campaigns ahead of the 2016 Brexit referendum and remained a core issue during the 2017 General Election.

René Cassin produced an analysis of the main political parties’ views on immigration, and suggested questions on immigration policy that our volunteers and supporters might ask their candidates.

A ‘key for freedom’ on the Seder plate – mobilising the Jewish community

We have found the Jewish community strongly supportive of our work on behalf of asylum seekers and migrants.

In 2016, many René Cassin supporters placed ‘a key for freedom’ on their Seder plates in sympathy with those detained in immigration detention centres. Later that year, we co-ran a whole-day learning and discussion track on refugee and asylum issues at Limmud and Young Limmud. René Cassin brought Rabbis, in advance of writing their Pesach sermons, to visit detainees held in the Government’s main detention centres. We introduced them to detainees, including some that have been held in indefinite detention for over a decade.

Our campaign inspired Sophie Shall, one of our Fellowship Programme participants, to set up a Jewish Visitors Group to work alongside other UK volunteer visitors’ groups. This complemented our earlier work in partnership with Right to Remain for volunteers and professionals who wanted to learn about the UK asylum system.

Read or download Making the Jewish Case for Human Rights in the UK as a PDF