My Jewish family fled the Russians too, says new Minister for Refugees

Richard Harrington said he has a special affinity with those fleeing Ukraine


The new Minister for Refugees has told the JC of his honour at being appointed to help desperate Ukrainian refugees find sanctuary in Britain.  

Richard Harrington, a Jewish former MP, was made a life peer and appointed by Boris Johnson to the role amid growing criticism of Britain’s handling of the crisis.  

He told the JC that being the descendent of Jews who fled the pogroms of Russia and Poland gave him a special affinity with Ukrainian families fleeing the horror of war. 

He said: “I am both honoured and moved to be chosen for this role.   I am Jewish and I am descended from refugees who came to Britain and found a safe haven when they fled the pogroms.” 

The former chairman of the executive board of Conservative Friends of Israel added: “I had quit frontline politics but I came back for this job because I know how important it is to give people who have been so traumatised a new home.  Jewish people feel a special affinity to the refugee cause. 

“This is the second time I have carried out this role – David Cameron appointed me during the Syrian crisis.   My immediate priority will be getting the system going and ensuring good quality accommodation for those who are turning to this country for help.” 

Born to a working class Jewish family, Mr Harrington, 63, grew up in Leeds and his father sold clothes from a market stall.   

His father’s ancestors arrived in Britain when Oliver Cromwell allowed Jews to escape from the Spanish Inquisition. His maternal family were victims of Russian and Polish pogroms and arrived in the 1890s. 

Former Prime Minister David Cameron praised the appointment and said Mr Harrington would be “brilliant” in the role. 

The Board of Deputies has joined criticisms made by the Refugee Council and Save the Children about Government delays in processing visas.  It highlighted the plight of a Ukrainian Holocaust survivor stranded in Poland. 

Elected Watford MP in 2010, Mr Harrington is a former vice-chairman of the Conservative party and served as both a Pensions and Business Minister before resigning from the frontbench in 2019 over the threat of a no-deal Brexit and standing down the same year.      

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