Conference Countdown 2015: The first policy debate on creating safe and legal routes for refugees.

In the run-up to Autumn Conference in Bournemouth, we’ll be looking ahead to examine the highlights in the debating hall, the fringe and training rooms. You can find the papers here. You can find all the posts in the series here.

The first policy debate of tho year’s Conference is on Creating safe and legal routes for refugees. It will be proposed by Suzanne Fletcher who is one of the founder members of Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary.

The motion is unlikely to be controversial and is particularly relevant at the moment. It is very consistent with the sorts of things that Tim Farron has been saying, especially since he visited the refugees in Calais himself.

However, if there are any developments, amendments can be submitted until 7th September. 

Conference notes that:

There are currently almost 20 million refugees worldwide, who have fled war and persecution, including nearly four million refugees who have fled the ongoing conflict in Syria.

The vast majority of refugees are hosted by developing countries; for example, only six percent of Syrian refugees have sought safety in Europe.

Increasing numbers of people are attempting extremely dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean, with over 100,000 arriving in Europe by sea and nearly 2,000 people dying making the journey in the first five months of 2015 alone.

33% of those crossing the Mediterranean have fled war-torn Syria, 10% have fled Eritrea, and 18% have fled Somalia and Afghanistan.

Conference welcomes the Liberal Democrat commitment to:

Give sanctuary to UN refugees, as stated in the party’s 2015 General Election Manifesto, Stronger Economy. Fairer Society. Opportunity for Everyone.

Increase the number of UN refugees resettled in the UK to 1,500 a year, in line with the campaign by Citizens UK.

Conference expresses concern that:

Governments across Europe are making it increasingly difficult for those fleeing war and persecution to seek safety on the continent by removing safe and legal routes and creating ‘Fortress Europe’.

The lack of safe and legal routes is forcing refugees to make dangerous journeys, resulting in the loss of life.
Current UK policy limits the safe and legal routes available, including through a limited number of places for resettled refugees and overly restrictive family reunion rules that prevent, among others, adult children being reunited with their parents and siblings.

Last December, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees called on governments around the world to provide resettlement and other forms of admission for 130,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2016, yet the United Kingdom has only pledged to resettle several hundred of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees, and by the end of March 2015, just 187 Syrians had been resettled here.

Conference calls on the Government to:

Create more safe and legal routes for refugees to seek safety in the UK by:

Significantly increasing the number of refugees resettled in the
UK through UNHCR programmes, offering thousands rather than hundreds of places to those fleeing war and persecution.
Making it easier for refugees to join relatives already living in safety through UNHCR programmes in the United Kingdom.

Continue to advocate for, and contribute to, the European search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean to save the lives of those who are forced to make dangerous journeys.

In the long-term, tackle the root causes of why people become refugees so that fewer people feel compelled to flee their homes.

Reaffirm the UK’s international commitment to give protection to those fleeing war and persecution.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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2 Comments

  • Richard Underhill 24th Aug '15 - 1:56pm

    Firstly the movers should understand that “sanctuary” is not a legal concept in the UK, but a religious concept which predates the legalities. It is therefore imprecise. Recognised refugees are free to move around the UK. They are not in a particular building as Julian Assange has been, which is an embassy which the UK does not choose to disrupt.
    Secondly the movers should make it clear to delegates that asylum seekers can become recognised refugees within the jurisdiction of a state such as the UK.
    In countries which are not signatories to the 1951 convention on the status of refugees the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) may have facilities such as camps and may recognise some people as refugees, thereby giving a status to the person/s, but not binding the host country to accept them. UNHCR will then try to transfer these people to countries which will accept them, or, some leave the camps, try to travel and make seek asylum as convention refugees on arrival in a country which has signed the 1951 convention.
    Some of these people may also be stateless, which invokes another UN convention.
    Objectives should be clearer. Do the movers want to change UK law? Do they want to change the 1951 convention? Do they want the UK government to act more sympathetically in one or more ways? There is, for instance, no mention of Airline Liaison Oficers. There is no mention of the Human Rights Act. There is no mention of prevous schemes which provided medical assistance to extremely vulnerable people from outside UK jurisdiction without putting them through the often onerous asylum and refugee process. There is no mention of whether the movers want to achieve protection from persecution or settlement (indefinite leave to enter or remain).
    Both the movers and the federal policy committee should do a lot better to produce a motion which can be implemented if passed.

  • suzanne fletcher 25th Aug '15 - 7:47pm

    just to add to this that I am not actaully moving this motion, it was put in on behalf of “Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary” in June to meet deadlines, and before the party spokespeople in parliament had been allocated.
    Alistair Campbell MP is now going to move the motion.
    The situation is ongoing, no speeches have been written yet, as Caron says amendments can be submitted ( I know of 3 that might be already, can anyone else who has one get in touch please ?), and of course speeches can be made.

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