Asylum groups warn Jewish community over London Citizens

Campaigners working to end the detention of the children of asylum seekers have warned the Jewish community against collaborating with Citizens UK, the controversial "community organisers" currently running a campaign to win over synagogues and Jewish organisations.

End Child Detention Now has told the JC that Citizens UK hijacked the campaign to end child detention, and then began working as agents of the UK Border Agency, which is responsible for the removal of families whose asylum claim has failed.

"Citizens UK, the self-styled home of community organising in Britain, has, bizarrely, claimed credit for single-handedly ending child detention, while collaborating with the UKBA, specifically helping to ensure that asylum seekers go quietly," said End Child Detention Now spokesman Dr Simon Parker.

Citizens UK, which grew out of London Citizens, enjoys the patronage of Ed Miliband's guru Lord Glasman, Philip Blond, an adviser to David Cameron, and former Labour Cabinet minister James Purnell.

"They are well known in the sector as a UKBA fifth column and they don't care where they recruit their stage army from," said one campaigner contacted by the JC.

Several activists said they were too scared to speak out because of the influence of London Citizens/Citizens UK.

A letter from the UK Border Agency, leaked to the JC, shows that Citizens UK is working closely with the government on a pilot scheme to provide Home Office-sanctioned "community sponsors" to work with families seeking asylum.

According to the letter from UKBA strategic director David Wood, Citizens UK is developing a pilot for the "community sponsors" who have a "pre-existing relationship of trust with an asylum seeker". These individuals would give "ongoing, pastoral support to the individual/family going through the asylum process which is of benefit to both the applicant and UKBA".

The issue has become an increasing public relations problem since Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg made a pledge, immediately after last year's election, to end child detention.

Critics say that working directly with government to facilitate asylum removals goes against the philosophy of community organising, which is supposed to be independent of government.

Two weeks ago the JC revealed that London Citizens deputy chair Junaid Ahmed had celebrated the Hamas leadership as resistance heroes.

In a video entitled Gaza: The Martyrs Meadow, Mr Ahmed paid tribute to Sheikh Yassin, the founder of Hamas, and present leader Khaled Meshaal.

London Citizens issued a statement saying the video did not constitute

support for terrorism. Mr Ahmed remains in post as a trustee and deputy chair of London Citizens as a representative of East London Mosque. The community leader is also closely associated with the Islamist organisation, Islamic Forum Europe.

The issue of London Citizens, which brings together grassroots groups and religious organisations, has proved deeply divisive within the Jewish community.

In particular, attempts to affiliate New North London Synagogue to London Citizens hit the buffers when concerns were raised about the organisation's campaigning tactics, especially on the issue of child detention.

Members of the synagogue complained that London Citizens had hijacked the campaign and claimed "victory" when Mr Clegg announced after the election last year that the policy would be scrapped. In fact, child detention has continued, although the government now plans to set up family-friendly "pre-departure accommodation" in a village near Gatwick Airport.

After the vote went against them at the synagogue's council in March, the pro-London Citizens faction in NNLS set up a break-away organisation, the Citizens Group, to affiliate to the community organisers. London Citizens has confirmed that the splinter group is a member. Individuals cannot join the organisation, but groups pay up to £2,000 for the privilege.

One member of NNLS, who has opposed the move to join London Citizens, told the JC: "If the whole £2,000 has been paid, then effectively the whole synagogue has joined, despite the verbal acrobatics to make it sound as if we haven't". The Citizens Group were founder members of North London Citizens when it launched at the end of March and a statement issued at the time said: "It was a hugely inspiring event and set the scene for a new beginning for working with our neighbours on issues of common concern." NNLS Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg also spoke at the event, despite the vote going against membership.

Other organisations which have joined London Citizens include the New London and Finchley Reform Synagogues, the North London Progressive Jewish Community, Masorti youth movement Noam and its organisation for young adults, Marom.

    Last updated: 9:30am, June 13 2011