By Enver Solomon, CEO of Refugee Council and Chair of Refugee Week, on behalf of the Refugee Week UK partnership
Over the course of this week, The Home Office used the occasion of Refugee Week to defend its ‘New Plan for Immigration’, which will reduce the level of protection the UK gives to people who take irregular routes to seek safety here.
Refugee Week is for everyone. It is a celebration of refugees of all backgrounds, with a focus on culture, the arts and the community.
It’s also a moment to appreciate the UK’s long history of giving protection to those who need it the most.
This year’s theme ‘We Cannot Walk Alone’ was not intended to be a political campaign about the government’s radical reforms to the asylum system. However, given that Home Office ministers have referenced Refugee Week in messages making the case for their reforms, we feel compelled to respond.
This Government’s New Immigration Plan will discriminate against asylum seekers based on the way they arrive to our country. The 1951 Refugee Convention says that a refugee is a person who has fled their country and has a well-founded fear of persecution. The right to seek asylum is universal and does not depend on the mode of arrival. Many see no choice but to undertake dangerous journeys in search of safety, including putting themselves at the mercy of unscrupulous smugglers.
For decades the UK has welcomed people fleeing war, terror and persecution regardless of how they have reached our shores who have gone on to make amazing contributions to our communities and national institutions such as the NHS. Now is not the time to turn our back on this great British value of refugee protection that we should all be proud of.
We welcome the fact that the Home Office recognises the importance of Refugee Week and its values, and ask that it respect Refugee Week as a unique celebration that enables people across the country to transcend divisions, and walk together.