A talk given at a Liberal International British Group meeting at Lib Dem Conference, by LD4SOS Council member, Suzanne Fletcher.
This isn’t a talk about the facts and figures, there are very many indeed. In the first half of this year 137,000 crossed the Mediterranean Sea, travelling in terrible conditions, in unsafe boats and dinghies. Many more have tried and failed. In 2013 a boat from Libya to Italy sank near to Lampedusa, and 368 refugees died. In short too many feel compelled to try, too many die in the process.
The majority of those taking the sea route to Europe are refugees in rapidly rising numbers. Most are fleeing from war, conflict, or persecution at home, as well as deteriorating conditions in many refugee hosting countries. The main countries of origin of those arriving in Italy, for instance, are Eritrea, 25%, followed by Nigeria, Somalia, Syria and Gambia.
Where do they want to go? More than 90% want to move elsewhere in the EU, most are not heading for the UK, the most popular places being Germany and Sweden, where they hope for a warmer welcome.
As the arrivals increase, reception capacity and conditions in Europe remain seriously inadequate. There are little or no facilities for people with special needs, including separated and unaccompanied children, making them even more vulnerable to the risk of exploitation. The lack of dignified reception facilities not only creates precarious conditions, but fuels tensions with local communities and contributes to onward movements.
To answer the question of the fringe meeting – is Lamepedusa the colliding point on the International Migration Crisis? the answer is definitely not. We, in the UK, all hear about what happens in the Mediterranean in the news, but it is a relatively small part of the global picture. Whilst we obsess about how many are arriving in Europe, but a massive 86% of the world’s refugees are hosted in developing countries.
A refugee crisis is nothing new, it goes as far back as written history, at least 3,500 years. The 1951 Refugee Convention set a global standard, and there is no reason at all why this should not be upheld today.
The lack of legal routes means that there is just no choice for many people and their families but to turn to smugglers. In doing so they are paying out huge amounts of money, but even worse are endangering their, and often their families’, lives.
At a fringe meeting, http://libdemfocus.co.uk/ld4sos/archives/623, held by Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary some years ago, the life jacket situation was described to us. “..holding up a fluorescent life jacket that she had picked up on a beach in Lesvos. It was made for a toddler. She then told us it was actually a fake. It would not have acted as a life jacket, but the parents who would have paid money for it did not know that. It was worse when she showed us a tiny life jacket, for a baby. Also fake. What sort of pressure would a family be under to put their children through such a risky journey ?” The room went silent. We were shocked, and the image of that tiny, fake, life jacket remains with me.
The controversial – and should they not be controversial? – efforts to save lives have sparked opposition citing the “pull factors”. Quite simply, those taking the risk see no other choice, it is a “push factor” not a pull one, as Baroness Sally Hamwee often points out.
To go back to Lampedusa. Whilst so many died, the heroic efforts of the islanders meant that 155 lives of the boat that sank were saved. The Island’s carpenter was so moved by the situation of the survivors, and what they had fled from, he made each one of them a cross from the boat wreckage. Both as a reflection of their salvation from the sea and also as a powerful symbol of their hope for the future.
Another cross was made that is taken around the world as a witness to the uncertainties faced today by those fleeing over the sea. It is to remind us of the power of own acts of love, mercy and hope.
The Pope said “we ourselves need to see, and then enable others to see, that migrants and refugees are brothers and sisters to be welcomed, respected, and loved.”
UNHCR has a set of proposals, condensed as:
Saving lives at sea; Dignified reception conditions; Ensuring greater solidarity within Europe; increasing legal avenues to safety, and collective action in response to the global displacement crisis.
As Liberal Democrats we cannot disagree with this. The root causes of the displacement must be tackled; fences and border controls are not going to stop people moving in a time of crisis. We need there to be a radical reappraisal and bold thinking, along with other countries. A Brexit that could be the beginning of the break-up of the European Union is only going to make the situation worse. The crisis is huge but not impossible, to tackle.
Above all else, as Lord Roger Roberts has just said, we must give HOPE.
The groups within the Liberal Democrats representing Christians, LGBT+ people, immigrants, and those seeking asylum, have put out the following statement:
Following reports that Home Office officials have been accusing asylum-seekers who are both Christian and LGBT+ of “contradiction”,(see https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2019/09/20/home-office-asylum-lgbt-religion-study-metropolitan-community-church-london/ )
we condemn this ignorance and insensitivity of the Home Office.
We also note that the Home Office’s “culture of disbelief” has impacted both Christian people and LGBT+ people in the past — and that this in turn is just a small part of the injustices that have led the Liberal Democrats to call for the Home Office to be stripped of all immigration and asylum responsibility.
Christine Jardine has spoken out here:
The UK has a long and proud record of providing sanctuary to refugees, but the Home Office’s treatment of LGBT+ asylum seekers is appalling.
Earlier this month, Liberal Democrats revealed that over the last three years the Home Office has refused over 3,100 asylum claims on the basis of sexuality, even though the people making them were from countries where consensual same-sex acts are criminalised.
Now, a report on LGBT African asylum seekers has found some being accused of “contradiction” by Home Office interviewers, because they are LGBT and Christian. One person even reported being asked, “How can you be lesbian and Christian?”
Imagine being forced to leave your home and making it to the UK, only to be told by Home Office officials that your very identity is a “contradiction”. Imagine having your religion used against you, to discredit your claim to asylum.
That is the culture of disbelief that both LGBT+ people and Christian converts face in the Home Office. Officials too often deny them asylum without any evidence; they simply assume that they are lying about who they are.
This Conservative Government is letting down every LGBT+ person and every individual in this country who cares about human rights.
The UK should be leading the campaign across the world against homophobia and transphobia. Instead, we have a Government that is turning its back and looking the other way.
Liberal Democrats demand better for LGBT+ people wherever they live.
We will establish a new, dedicated unit to handle asylum claims, free of political interference and without the Home Office’s culture of disbelief.
Liberal Democrats will fix our asylum system so that the UK provides sanctuary to those who need it.
We fully support what Christine Jardine says in the article below. There is much that Boris Johnson needs to be ashamed of, and this should be highlighted as one of them.
There is often confusion around the labels used to describe asylum seekers, refugees, immigrants and migrants and this can be unhelpful. For many years LD4SOS have been producing leaflets that describe people who leave their country of origin for different reasons. We even presented one to the BBC, with Lord Roger Roberts. We have now reworked this leaflet, you can see it here Let’s Get the Names Right Aug 2019. Please do what you can to pass this on.
Responding to Boris Johnson’s comments on people crossing the Channel, Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary Christine Jardine said:
“It is just plain wrong for Boris Johnson to label refugees crossing the Channel as ‘illegal migrants’. Quite apart from the dehumanising language, there is nothing illegal about seeking sanctuary in the UK, and it is shameful that we have a Prime Minister who says it is.
“We know that many of these people have fled persecution in Iran. For the Prime Minister to casually dismiss their rights to asylum with no evidence whatsoever is unlawful and inhumane.
“The Liberal Democrats demand better. The way to stop these dangerous crossings is through an effective and compassionate response: investing in a stronger Border Force to stop the smugglers and traffickers, while ensuring safe, legal routes to sanctuary for those forced out of their home countries.”
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS TO LIB DEM LEADERSHIP CANDIDATES.
These are their answers, so we hope it helps you to decide who to vote for in the leadership election
Also Lib Dem Immigrants have asked questions relevant of the work this do, of both candidates.
you can see the answers here, again hoping it helps people to decide who to vote for.
REFUGEE WEEK CALLS FROM LIBERAL DEMOCRATS.
Liberal Democrats believe that seekers of sanctuary in the UK should be treated humanely, with compassion and respect. They work to do what they can to implement this, and to end the hostile environment.
This Refugee Week, two calls have been made about our commitment to refugees from war torn countries coming here.
Farron calls on Government to take 10,000 child refugees
Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron has tabled a motion in Parliament urging the Government to resettle 10,000 refugee children in the UK over the next 10 years – a call backed by the refugee charity Safe Passage and cross-party group of MPs.
The Early Day Motion also calls on the Government to urgently fill the remainder of the 480 places under the so-called ‘Dubs Amendment’ (Section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016), after the Home Office has said that just over 220 unaccompanied refugee children have been relocated from elsewhere in Europe since the scheme began in 2016.
After tabling his motion, Tim Farron said:
“Theresa May’s Conservative Government has failed to uphold the UK’s commitment to child refugees. It is shameful that they’ve taken just 220 children under the Dubs Amendment, which was originally meant to welcome 3,000.
“The Liberal Democrats demand better. If Theresa May is to rescue any legacy at all she should use her last days in office to finally fulfil the promise under the Dubs Amendment. It is time to make a new commitment to provide sanctuary to 10,000 more refugee children over the next ten years.
“The UK must not turn its back on those who’ve been forced to flee their homes and now live in destitution and fear.”
There is more information in this article in Politics Home.
Davey Calls Tory Refugee Resettlement Plan “Woefully Inadequate”.
In addition, earlier in Refugee Week, Lib Dem Home Affairs spokesman Ed Davey called the statement on resettlement plans from the Home Secretary “woefully inadequate”
Sajid Javid committed the Government to take another 5,000 refugees in 2020-21, but Ed Davey said:
“Millions of people around the world have been forced to flee their homes by war and persecution, and the Conservative Government’s response is woefully inadequate.
“Today’s announcement from the Home Secretary falls far short of the 10,000 refugees a year that the Liberal Democrats have been calling to be resettled here, and there is nothing in it for the unaccompanied refugee children still sleeping rough in northern France.
“The Liberal Democrats demand better. The UK must provide safe, legal routes to sanctuary for far more refugees, including resettling unaccompanied children from elsewhere in Europe and allowing those already here to sponsor their parents and other close family to join them.”
There has never been a better parliamentary opportunity to finally end indefinite detention for immigration purposes. Ending such indefinite detention has long been a key policy for Lib Dems. It has featured in both the 2015 and 2017 manifestos. You can see more detail on our policy paper here. Our MPs and Peers have taken lots of opportunities in Parliament to raise and campaign on the issue. We have worked with Detention Forum who have done brilliant work with all parties and none, too
There is an amendment, that has cross-party support with 100% of Lib Dem MPs signing it. Also some Labour, Conservative, DUP, Change, Green, SNP, and Plaid MPs already signed up. Here is an UPDATED List of Conservative MPs to target
We don’t know when this will come before Parliament, but it could be any time now, and it is essential that as many MPs as possible, from all parties are signed up to it.
Detention Forum have drawn up this note that can be sent to MPs. You can see from the link above which MPs have already signed.
So please take the time to send the message below, that is in italics, to make sure that this amendment will be agreed, and we put an end to the inhumane practice of locking people up with no time limit.
“We understand that your time in Parliament will be focused on other pressing matters but we hope you would consider supporting the amendments tabled to the Immigration Bill that would introduce a 28-day time limit on how long an individual can be held in immigration detention. This link takes you to the amendment.
Just recently the Home Affairs Select Committee released their report into immigration detention and ‘found serious problems with almost every element of the immigration detention system’ and reiterated the need for a 28-day time limit in immigration detention.
This follows the Joint Committee on Human Rights report earlier this year which also called for a 28-day time limit. “
Detention Forum say “We would be happy to provide further briefing on the issue and to the amendment more specifically. For now we are asking MPs to add their names to amendments NC1 – NC8 in the immigration Bill. Further briefings will be available ahead of Report Stage. “