Two rabbis have criticised their local MP for failing to vote on a measure aimed at helping more child refugees settle in the UK.
Miriam Berger and Rebecca Birk said it was “shameful” that Mike Freer, the Conservative member for Finchley and Golders Green, was out of the country when the vote was held on Tuesday.
Rabbi Berger, senior rabbi of Finchley Reform Synagogue in north London, said Mr Freer’s absence represented “a damning indictment on the concept of democracy”.
The rabbi, who has been a leading figure in her community’s response to the refugee crisis, added: “Our community has worked so hard to raise funds for the Safe Passage scheme, has taken resources to the camps in Calais and has worked to settle refugee families into the borough of Barnet only to find, that at the moment that this work needs to be continued by our elected representative in Parliament, Mike Freer, he was abroad and therefore not able to vote.”
Rabbi Birk, of Finchley Progressive Synagogue, has spearheaded attempts to persuade Barnet Council to take in 50 Syrian refugees.
She said: “Our MP Mike Freer has chosen to be away and it is in many ways shameful.
“There is a strong appetite for empathy and no more so than this very borough and ward he represents. Our community has also worked hard on settling into refugee families here. He is our elected representative and was profoundly and notably absent.”
But Mr Freer, who was in the United States on parliamentary business at the time of the vote, strongly denied he had deliberately absented himself.
He said: “The cross-party delegation to Washington was booked long before the amendments were tabled and the vote known. To suggest I chose to avoid the vote is nonsense.
“I have argued with government ministers for the Dubs schemes to continue but equally support the government views that helping the most vulnerable from the camps on the Syrian border is the right thing to do.
“Those too weak to make the perilous journey, those who can’t afford to pay people traffickers are rightly our priority.”
The measure debated in the Commons would have made it compulsory for local authorities to declare their capacity to accommodate refugee children.
Proposed by Tory MP Heidi Allen as an amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill, it was voted down by 287-267.
Ms Allen put the amendment forward after the government halted the transfer of young refugees to the UK which it had previously agreed to under the “Dubs Amendment”, a scheme advanced by Jewish peer Lord Dubs, who arrived in the UK on the Kindertransport as a child refugee from the Nazis.
The government said there was a nationwide shortage of council accommodation to house the refugees.
Of the approximately 3,000 young refugees that would have been taken under the Dubs scheme, only 350 were allowed into the country.
Edie Friedman, director for the Jewish Council for Racial Equality and a leading campaigner for refugees, said she was “deeply disappointed” by Tuesday’s result.
She said: “We will be working closely with our colleagues to continue to push the government in doing the right thing and offer sanctuary to some of the many vulnerable young refugees.”