Lord Sacks urges Britain to take in 10,000 refugees in a Kindertransport-style gesture


Emeritus Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks has called for Britain to respond to the refugee crisis with a humanitarian gesture similar to the Kindertransport rescue of Jewish children before the war.

He said that Britain needed to take a more generous approach to accepting refugees.

Speaking on BBC2’s Newsnight programme, Lord Sacks said: “Some of the images we have seen in the last few days have brought back images that we thought we would never see again.

“They take our mind way back to the Holocaust and it is important to remember simple humanitarian gestures like the Kindertransport which rescued 10,000 children in Germany.

“It was only 10,000 out of six million, but it lit a light in the darkest period of history.”

He said Prime Minister David Cameron needed to make “a very clear humanitarian gesture like Kindertransport.”

“I think 10,000 is a figure that we could handle and it is a figure to which Britain would respond well - the churches, the religious groups, the charities, would all join in and we would be better for doing it.”

He added: “The European Union was created as a way of saying we recognise the catastrophe of the two world wars and the Holocaust and it is very chilling to see some of these scenarios playing out.”

He criticised Hungary's response to the the thousands of Syrians who had arrived in Budapest. Prime Minister Viktor Orban said that his country did not want to take in large numbers of Muslims.

Lord Sacks said: “Now is the time for humanitarian compassion to triumph over what seem to me quite dark and dangerous remarks.

“I hope that European countries will realise that the very ideals on which the EU were founded are being tested right now.”

He praised the response from Germany saying they had become “a symbol of humanitarianism” by taking in 800,000 refugees so far.

He said: “There is no doubt the primary burden is being felt by Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon who are taking huge numbers.

“And Germany is clearly resettling with its past and is showing it has learnt from the past and is becoming a symbol of humanitarianism.”

He added: “I don’t think we can go that far but the tradition of Britain being a place of refuge for those at risk of losing their liberty or their lives should guide us to being more generous other than less so.”

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has called for "a compassionate response in the face of a deep and tragic humanitarian crisis".

Speaking on BBC Radio 4 Today programme, he said: "The plight of refugees is not only their problem - it is also our problem. These are real people."

The Chief Rabbi said he had discussed the situation with Pope Francis during a private audience at the Vatican on Thursday. He said the image of the body of three-year-old Syrian child Aylan Kurdi on a Turkish beach had been "heartbreaking".

On the same programme, former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind said he was concerned that refuges were risking their lives trying to reach northern Europe having already arrived in a place of relative safety in Turkey.

The former Conservative MP, who is Jewish, said: “From a humanitarian point of view I don’t blame anyone for wanting to seek out a better life in the north of Europe.

“But from an asylum point of view if you are in Turkey already you are not in danger, they are not going to lose their lives if you are in Turkey or Jordan.

He added: “I have no doubt that we should be taking more people. It’s not just a problem for the UK. When you go back to the Second World War and the refugee crisis there, it involved large numbers of people going to Canada, Australia and the United States.

“It should not just be what the quota is for Britain.We should be expecting other developed countries to be playing ball and there has been very little discussion round that. “

Meanwhile, Senior Reform Rabbi Laura Janner Klausner, issued an invitation to the movement's members to attend an open meeting on Monday, to discuss how what can be done to aid the refugees.

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