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Holocaust survivors are urging Boris Johnson to put humanity before trade: why won’t he listen?

Dania Quadri on the proposed genocide amendment to the UK’s Trade Bill.

On 23rd February, Holocaust survivors Ruth Barnett BME and Dorit Oliver-Wolff BEM urged Prime Minster Boris Johnson to meet with them to discuss the genocide amendment to the Trade Bill and its implications for a future free trade deal with China. In an interview with Laura Bierer-Nielsen, founder of the Foundation for Uyghur Freedom, Ms Barnett puts it very clearly: “we can’t stop something that doesn’t have a name”.

In recent weeks, the tussle between the House of Commons and the House of Lords to include this amendment to the Trade Bill has gained increasing news coverage. The amendment would enable a government select committee of judicial experts to determine whether a trading partner is committing genocide. It will now enter the Commons for the third time. In an open letter to the Prime minister, Ms Barnett and Ms Oliver-Wolff seek to meet the Prime Minister to discuss the amendment before the vote.

Biden declared China was committing genocide within weeks of taking office.

But why is this important?

Ms Barnett stresses that the ability to name the atrocities in Xinjiang, China as genocidal is extremely crucial to taking action against the ongoing injustice, going on to say that “whilst its [assumed to be] alleged… [we] need not bother.” If UK experts label the atrocities as “genocidal” it would place a moral imperative on PM Boris Johnson to reassess any trade deals with China. It is for this moral imperative that the amendment is garnering support.

The alleged atrocities in Xinjiang include disappearances, forced sterilisation, organ harvesting, forced marriages, forced labour, mass rape, separating children from their parents, physical and sexual torture, and indoctrination.

And while recent numbers estimate that nearly 3 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities are facing this, Ms Oliver-Wolff reminds us that “it doesn’t matter what the number is”, injustice calls for action wherever it is happening.

Ms Barnett and Ms Oliver-Wolff having survived the Holocaust, know the immeasurable trauma of genocide too well. Ms Barnett was born in Berlin and arrived in the UK via the Kindertransport with her brother. Her Jewish father fled to China to escape the Nazis, while her non-Jewish mother remained to hide in Berlin. In 1949, a court order forced Ms Barnett to go back to Germany, but she returned to England the following year and has lived here since. Ms Oliver-Wolff was born in former Yugoslavia. She and her mother fled the Nazis and travelled undercover within Hungary in 1941 to find safety, where her mother would try to sneak out of hiding to find them food. When the war ended, Ms Oliver-Wolff came to know that her father and her entire family were massacred. She later immigrated to Israel before settling in the UK.

Alongside their careers – Ms Barnett worked as a teacher and later a psychotherapist while Ms Oliver-Wolff pursued her passion for music and became a jazz and blues singer – these remarkable women have continued to educate people about their experiences and the importance of retaining our humanity.

“We have created a society that I call responsibly averse” Ms Barnett said while speaking with Laura, adding that it is “destroying the better part of being human”. For someone to revisit their own pain and loss of inexplicable magnitude, to prevent it from happening to anyone else is awe-inspiring. I cannot imagine the mental grit it takes to actively delve into a dark past to pave the way to better the future.

When Ms Oliver-Wolff refers to Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities, she stresses the word “human” explaining that “I call them human because they are human, and no humans should be treated this way”.

The pair hope a meeting with PM Boris Johnson would allow them “to call out genocide so effective action can be taken.”

So far, Johnson has not responded to the women.

Speaking to a Holocaust survivor and war veteran who liberated one of the Holocaust camps on Holocaust Memorial Day, Johnson said: “What you saw and experienced is horrifying and we must make sure nothing like that happens again”.

Ms Barnett and Ms Oliver-Wolff are urging him to meet to act per his words.

You can sign their petition here.


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