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Protesting against Priti Patel’s inhumane refugee policies in Folkestone, location of the Napier Barracks (photo: Care4Calais).

Refugee support groups unite to oppose Patel’s hard line against asylum-seekers

With the start of Refugee Week approaching on Monday, Home Secretary Priti Patel’s ever harder line against asylum-seekers, backed by her apparent unwillingness to abide by the UK’s international commitments, has prompted refugee support groups to mount a collective campaign for a fair and humane system, as Felicity Laurence of Hastings Community of Sanctuary Campaigns team explains.

A few days ago, the Norwegian authorities confirmed that the baby’s body found washed up on their shores was that of the little boy Artin Iran Nezhad, who drowned with his family last October, as they tried to cross the freezing and dangerous seas from France to the UK.

Please take a moment to look at these heartbreaking pictures of Artin, where you can also read more about what really goes on when desperate people try to get to safety with us from the French coast. Our Government repeats constantly that it’s all the smugglers’ fault; but the reality is that if Artin’s family had been able to make their initial asylum claim from Calais, they could have taken the ferry and been here in an hour and a half, Artin playing happily – like any other child – in the lounge perhaps.

With that kind of safe and legal route, this utter tragedy of an entire family perishing could never have happened, and the smugglers would lose their function, livelihood and power.

But Home Office policy makes this impossible, despite repeated pleas from every major NGO in the field, Lord Alfred Dubs, who has championed this cause in the House of Lords, and countless other political, legal and religious figures. In the words of the NGO Detention Action, “[Home Secretary] Priti Patel has closed down some of the last remaining safe and legal routes for families and children to this country, and refused to open new ones.”

The week 14-20 June is Refugee Week, and never has it been so urgent to focus upon our fellow human beings who seek sanctuary with us from war, persecution, torture. This urgency arises from the Government’s planned new legislation to change radically the processes and laws around claiming asylum. The already infamous hostile environment is set to enter on a new path of unprecedented harshness.

Contravening international law

In a nutshell, the proposed changes remove the right to asylum for anyone entering the country by an unapproved route, with the justification that asylum must be claimed in the first country reached. This directly contravenes international law arising from the 1951 Refugee Convention.

As clearly explained on the legal website Free Movement: “There is no legal obligation on refugees to claim asylum in safe countries and if they decline to do so it does not disqualify them from refugee status in any way.”

“Is this what a foreign criminal looks like?” reads the caption (image: Safwa Chowdhury, HCoS Campaigns team).

This has long also been supported by UK case law, as also detailed in the Free Movement analysis; legal authorities are already condemning the new plans as unlawful.

Furthermore, mode of entry should have no bearing on someone’s claim to asylum: people arriving in the UK through illegal routes are legally entitled to claim for asylum if they do so on arrival. They are not “illegal immigrants” as so repeatedly and falsely claimed in Government and media rhetoric.

Yet already over 1,500 people – one in four of those who arrived in the UK seeking asylum in the first three months of 2021 – have been told that their claims are inadmissible and won’t be considered – no matter how strong. And furthermore, instead of being placed into communities, to be supported there by local people while waiting for the Home Office to decide whether they can be removed to another ‘safe’ country, they are to be held in mass ‘reception centres’.

This is being trialled right now in Napier Barracks, despite their use being decreed unlawful in a recent High Court judgement, perhaps to test what British people are willing to accept as ‘normal’ and acceptable – refugee camps in effect… Where they are to be deported to is unclear, as Britain no longer has an agreement with any country in the EU enabling removal back to a former ‘safe’ country through which the person may have passed.

And, in yet another startling unravelling of our existing commitment to the principle of asylum, if anyone who has entered by irregular routes does eventually gain leave to stay – perhaps because it proves simply impossible to remove them elsewhere – they will be forced to reapply for protection every 30 months. They will never be able to settle, never properly make a new life, and the threat of removal will hang over them forever.

This would apply, for example, to all those who are trafficked here: the most desperately vulnerable of all – lured on false promises, perhaps not even knowing where they are being taken – and then enslaved, for many into a life of sexual abuse. All would now be deemed ‘inadmissible’- these victims of modern slavery whom we as a nation are supposed to want to protect.

Coalition of opposition

In response to these plans, six major NGOs have formed a coalition, the Asylum Reform Initiative (ARI) which recently launched their campaign Together with Refugees, which seeks a “fair and humane approach to the UK’s refugee system, including with new safe routes, so that people don’t have to risk their life taking dangerous journeys” – noting that most people who claim asylum simply do not have access to “regular” routes: their only option is to enter in small boats or the back of a lorry.

Rallying cry from Together with Refugees.

Together with Refugees draws particular attention to the profoundly adverse effect of the proposed legislation upon women and children, two thirds of whom would be turned away under the proposed new rules.

The ARI – The Red Cross, Freedom from Torture, Refugee Council, Refugee Action, Asylum Matters and Scottish Refugee Council – have now been joined by over 200 other organisations, including Hastings Community of Sanctuary. We were honoured to be invited, as a recognised voice from the grassroots, to speak at their national pre-launch event, and then again on 1 June, at the national City of Sanctuary’s launch event for this campaign, and for a third time at their mobilisation workshop during Refugee Week.

Recently the Home Secretary Priti Patel accused those who oppose her plans of ‘sowing dissent’ (this would presumably include the United Nations which has also voiced its disapproval), claiming that she has the backing of the majority of the population. Together with Refugees disagrees; in recent research they found for example that in the South East, “72% of people agree that the UK needs an asylum system that is effective, fair and humane, so it can uphold its responsibility to offer refugee protection to those who need it.”

During Refugee Week, Hastings Community of Sanctuary will continue our work of reaching out to our fellow human beings who need our help, and to our fellow Hastonians to help us celebrate and build a positive vision for welcoming them. Our usual Refugee Week event, Festival by the Lake, to which up to one thousand people have come in previous years, is postponed until September.

Rehumanising

Conversation with Calais in Hastings shop window (image: HCoS).

But we have launched a fundraiser for funds to provide to refugees in Calais and Greece; circulating postcards from the wonderful Conversations from Calais, where conversations between volunteers and refugees are recorded in compelling short pieces, with a crucial focus on ‘rehumanising’ those people who are being dehumanised in our own government’s narrative: and as part of this, making a series of vox pops with the numerous Hastings people who have volunteered in refugee camps, and who have met so many courageous, dignified people there, and children like Artin.

A few days after the news of the tragedy in the Channel, we held a candlelit vigil for Artin and his family, standing together in sorrow on the Stade on that cold, wet November night. Nearly 100 people came; we knew that hundreds more were there with us in spirit. Polly Gifford, co-chair HCoS, spoke for all of us when she answered the question of why they didn’t stay in France:

“The answer to that question will be different every time, for every person or family.  Maybe they speak English, maybe they have family here, maybe they have heard they will get treated well.

“It doesn’t matter.

“I don’t need to know what is behind every individual decision to put themselves, and often their family, in a small unsafe dinghy and head out to sea.  I just need to trust that no one takes that risk without a great deal of thought, and for reasons that I might not even begin to understand.

“What matters is their – and our – humanity.”

 

For more information, please visit the Hastings Community of Sanctuary webpage, where you can sign our Pledge of support and follow us on Twitter. See also Hastings Supports Refugees Facebook page, Together with Refugees and Refugee Council‘s The Truth about Asylum.

Showing local support for refugees (photo: The Refugee Buddy Project).

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Posted 09:54 Sunday, Jun 13, 2021 In: Campaigns

5 Comments

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Rosemary Brocklehurst

    You obviously don’t liketo be challenged. I did not call you a barbarian and you did call me venomous. I said the last bastion against barbarism. It is a socio-political term to describe civilisations that degenerate through history.

    Comment by Rosemary Brocklehurst — Tuesday, Jun 15, 2021 @ 20:00

  2. Jay Kramer

    My grandfather came to the UK fleeing persecution as a political activist under the Tsar in Poland and also because he was Jewish. He was a refugee and always respected the freedoms of this country compared to where he came from. He became a British citizen in 1948, worked all his life, and brought up two children in North London.
    I am proud of this heritage which has informed my politics and means that I believe that people fleeing persecution should be welcomed and treated with dignity and respect.
    The term “illegal immigrant” used by Dar is offensive and incorrect. The law allows for people coming her to claim asylum. This is very different from “economic migrants” as Dar calls them.
    Terminology is very important in terms of understanding the issues facing people coming to find sanctuary in the UK. Why would anyone travel on an unsafe boat with young children to get here if they were not desperate? We need to take action to protect these vulnerable people and not demonise them like the Home Office and the Government does.

    Comment by Jay Kramer — Tuesday, Jun 15, 2021 @ 16:24

  3. DAR

    Rosie, take a look at a map of the world: it’s not “untrue” to describe Britain as a “small island” in relative terms. “Vast swathes of unoccupied land” – yes, where building is unsuitable – woodland, mountains, flood plains, moors, farmland, parks etc. Also, I’m not a barbarian, and I wouldn’t expect someone who claims to be caring to be so venomous.

    Frankly, I can’t understand why people who take an “open border” stance on “refugees” and illegal immigrants tend to be those who also want to preserve our green spaces, ancient woodlands etc., and oppose lots of roadbuilding. They, like me, are probably not enamoured with intensive farming practices – but we’ll get more of this (and horribly inappropriate developments – see Hastings) if our population keeps rising by at least a quarter of a million each year (which it has done for years and years now). England (where most “refugees” and illegal immigrants end up) is one of the densest populated nations on the planet. If we want food, water and energy security, we need to stabilise the population , not encourage all & sundry to cling on to axles or risk their lives in small, overloaded boats.
    Please join up the dots, Rosie et al. “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions” is a quote that comes to mind (not sure whose it is).

    Comment by DAR — Tuesday, Jun 15, 2021 @ 11:13

  4. Rosie Brocklehurst

    The above comment by DAR is actually untrue. Firstly, we are not that small an island -vast swathes of unoccupied land being largely owned by 1 per cent of the population. Secondly, Refugee Groups so dismissively mentioned- are the last barricade against barbarism. They are bastions of enlightenment – who work and volunteer tirelessly to fight and care for the abandoned and the bereft. If we ever had to leave Britain and seek refuge elsewhere, the rhetoric untrue statements and false narratives of the anti immigrant, expressed by DAR and others , would not serve us well. On top of this, Hastings voted to become a City of Sanctuary whichever way DAR voted (or maybe did not bother). The welcome (albeit limited in numbers, given by Hastings people to Asylum seekers from war torn countries) reflects well on our community. Thirdly, we don’t let many refugees into Britain – far fewer than our European counterparts within the G7. And, of course, Asylum seekers are not allowed to work while they await judgement . Do not confuse refugees with economic migration. Open EU borders prior to Brexit, (open to Brits as well as Europeans) saw for example, many Poles come here . Poles who love Britain and the Queen and who fought with us in WW2, and in the Battle of Britain have been a particular bonus. We have benefited from them and other migrants. But that is a separate issue (currently feeling unwelcome in the nasty xenophobic atmosphere post Brexit, many have gone back to their homelands. Now hotel and restaurant owners are finding skilled and willing staff much harder to find). Of course, recent asylum seeker numbers increased when by hanging on the coat tails of the Bush administration, we destabilised the Middle East with the invasion of Iraq.
    So think again about what we do to others, for it may one day happen to us.

    Comment by Rosie Brocklehurst — Monday, Jun 14, 2021 @ 16:04

  5. DAR

    “Hastings Welcomes Refugees” – a bit presumptuous to speak for everyone in Hastings, isn’t it? You have to ask why people risk danger, exploitation and death to ride the Channel. The 1951 Convention was set up to sort out the appalling post-WW2 refugee crisis, not the sort of thing we are seeing now – people seeking “a better life” usually for economic reasons. I don’t blame them – it’s the encouragement they get from “refugee support groups” and certain politicians who are to blame. If we were a geographically large country like the USA, it wouldn’t be so bad, but we are a small island with limited space and resources and there’s got to be a time soon to say “enough”.

    Comment by DAR — Monday, Jun 14, 2021 @ 09:44

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