Alf Dubs, the veteran Labour peer who arrived in the UK as a child fleeing the Nazis, has described Suella Braveman’s likening of refugees to invaders as “deeply and personally upsetting”, and a low point of his half century in politics.
Dubs, who fled what was then Czechoslovakia unaccompanied in 1939 and came to the UK aged six as part of the Kindertransport system, condemned the home secretary for using language that painted those also fleeing persecution as “hostile people”.
Dubs’ comments, made in a new podcast series presented by the Lord Speaker, John McFall, follow criticism of Braverman by another survivor of the Holocaust last month.
In comments made in October, shortly after she was reappointed by Rishi Sunak, Braverman said in the Commons that refugees and migrants crossing the Channel in small boats were “the invasion on our southern coast”.
Asked by McFall to list the highs and lows of his political career, Dubs cited the comments alongside the experience of losing his Commons seat in 1987 and then being unemployed for a year.
“I have to say, when the home secretary talks about refugees as invaders, I find that deeply and personally upsetting. Upsetting because invaders are seen as an enemy,” he said.
“Invaders are hostile people, whereas what we’re talking about are people who are fleeing from war, persecution, threats to their safety and so on. And I think we owe them a bit of compassion.”
Speaking to McFall on the Lord Speaker’s Corner podcast, Dubs said his experience of travelling to the UK alone amid an evacuation of primarily Jewish refugees organised by the British humanitarian Nicholas Winton had greatly shaped his outlook.
“I don’t think one can go through that sort of experience without it having some effect on one,” said Dubs, who was reunited with his parents in London.
“And my belief is that I felt the issue of refugees was important then, and is important now, and it’s important, for those of us that have a chance to play in public life, to make use of our experience and to use it as effectively as we can.”
Braverman was challenged over her comments during a meeting in her Fareham constituency in Hampshire last month. Joan Salter, 83, who fled Belgium as a child in 1943, likened them to the rhetoric used by the Nazis.
“When I hear you using words against refugees like ‘swarms’ and an ‘invasion’, I am reminded of the language used to dehumanise and justify the murder of my family and millions of others,” she said. “Why do you find the need to use that kind of language?”
Braverman argued in response that the scale of unofficial migration was unlike anything seen before and she would not “apologise for the language that I have used to demonstrate the scale of the problem”.
A source close to Braverman said: “The home secretary has a duty to be honest with the British people about the scale of the crisis on the south coast and won’t shy away from that.”