Lamb and Farron reply to Lib Dems for Seekers of Sanctuary

The Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary (which you can join here) has put some detailed questions on asylum, immigration and humanitarian matters to the leadership candidates. Here are their answers.

 We appreciate that there are now far less parliamentarians, but will you ensure when organising teams that there is a spokesperson that covers asylum related issues?

Norman’s reply:

Absolutely, yes.  I want our party to rebuild the reputation we won under Paddy for speaking out clearly and consistently on the difficult international issues we face as a country.

We must lead the way in challenging the appalling humanitarian disaster across the Mediterranean, with thousands of desperate North African migrants drowning in their attempts to flee civil war and famine, crossing the sea in tiny boats.

We must also keep up pressure to improve our system for handling asylum applications, ending long delays that can leave people’s lives on hold for many months while they wait for a decision.

We have a fantastic team of peers, and I know they are determined to play their part in speaking out for our party on these important issues.

I would also want to work with members of Lib Dem Seekers of Sanctuary to support the group in speaking out itself on behalf of the many members who feel strongly about Britain’s asylum policies.  And as leader I would take a close personal interest, adding my own voice to make sure our party is heard and – most importantly – in working to achieve real change and make sure Britain fulfils its responsibilities to those threatened by violence and conflict around the world.

Tim’s reply:

Yes, absolutely. The Liberal Democrats must make the case for a compassionate, open United Kingdom when it comes to asylum seekers – if we don’t, no one else will

I have frequently raised these issues in Parliament, including as the party’s Foreign Affairs spokesman in the run-up to the election. For example, I wrote an article for the New Statesman about the horrors of hundreds of people dying in the Mediterranean, and the urgent need for Britain to work with our European partners to save lives rather than turning our backs. You can read it here:

So yes, if I am leader I will make sure that a consistent, compassionate Lib Dem voice is heard loud and clear on these issues.

Will you ensure that our party insists on a follow up of the key recommendations of the APPG report on the inquiry into the use of immigration detention in the UK (available here) The recommendations and beginning of executive summary are on page 9, and you will see on page 10 there is a recommendation of setting up a working party.

Tim’s reply:

I think Sarah Teather’s work as chair of the Inquiry has been fantastic. As a member of the party’s Manifesto Working Group, I pushed for our manifesto to include the ending of indefinite detention for immigration purposes. As I wrote for the New Statesman in December, it is a policy that would truly change lives and help build a more liberal Britain that treats people with dignity and respect:

I am incredibly proud of Nick Clegg’s principled insistence on ending the detention of children for immigration purposes. He showed huge integrity by fighting for a policy that probably didn’t win us a single vote, but certainly changed the lives of 5,000 children immeasurably for the better. The Liberal Democrats must continue to show the same resolve and commitment to decency when it comes to the use of immigration detention for adults.

This comes with the caveat which I’m sure you’re aware of that the Liberal Democrats policy is set not by the leader but by members. I am so glad to be part of a party where members don’t just get a say on policy, they decide it and, crucially, they want to decide it. We are a democratic party that is engaged and lively and of that I am most proud – and I wouldn’t want to impose my own passion for these issues on the Party!

Norman’s reply:

I would want to work with LD4SOS to argue the case to our party for making sure the APPG’s recommendations are followed up.
There is a difference between migration and asylum issues, that need a different approach.  Will you ensure that the parliamentary party are clear on this, and also our policy unit and media advisers ?

Norman’s reply:

It is incredibly dangerous when our public discourse confuses issues of asylum, and issues relating to immigration.  We are an internationalist party, and we must make absolutely sure that our approach to complex international issues properly recognises the nuances and distinctions in this area.

I want us to argue for an open and inclusive approach to immigration, welcoming all those who want to contribute to our economy and society.  And I also want Britain to play a significant and responsible role in finding a home for those who are displaced by violence, conflict, and discrimination around the world.

On both, we must challenge the rhetoric of fear and hate, making the humane and liberal case for a Britain that is open to the world.  We believe in both of these causes as Liberal Democrats because of our fundamental belief in a society that is open, tolerant, and caring.

Tim’s reply:

Absolutely! We need to be clear on this within the party, but also need always to be speaking to people outside the party too so that they get it in both their heads and their hearts.

It’s also important that we understand the power of language in debates around these issues. Our illiberal opponents often conflate terms like ‘immigrant’, ‘refugee’ and ‘asylum seeker’ – whether deliberately or not – and also introduce damaging and dehumanising labels like ‘bogus’ and ‘illegal’. We must stand up against this, and always promote accuracy, clarity and decency in debate to increase the chance of making good, effective and decent policies.
What would you suggest the UK can do to take in more of those fleeing from Syria?

Tim’s reply:

We need to work with our EU partners, NGOs and experts both to find homes for refugees now and stop people becoming refugees in the future. Like so many issues we face today – from climate change to people trafficking – we can do so much more about it through our membership of the EU than we’d ever be able to do if we left. That’s why the Liberal Democrats must take the lead in the Yes campaign to make sure we remain in the EU.

In the short-term, we must be a strong liberal voice arguing for Britain to be a sanctuary for those who need it and not turn its back on the dispossessed. We must make sure that there are not unnecessary blockages preventing us from taking in more refugees. I understand that, when Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems secured funding for housing Syrian refugees, the places didn’t materialise at the local government level. When faced with a crisis like this, the machinery of government needs to get working, and quickly.

We must also continue our humanitarian support for the millions of Syrians who’ve lost their homes but remain in the region, and ensure food, water, shelter and medical care gets to where it is needed.

In the long-term, we need to help bring peace and stability to Syria and the surrounding countries so that people are not forced to flee their homes. I believe that we should support the moderate opposition, who are fighting both President Bashar al-Assad and ISIL, push for an inclusive political transition so that moderates from all sides can unite against extremism.

I hope and expect that the Party will continue to debate how to make this happen over the next few years, as the situation in Syria and Cameron’s government’s response to it develops.

Norman’s reply:
We must engage much more constructively with our European partners to make sure countries across Europe fulfil their responsibilities to those displaced by conflict across the Middle East  and Britain must show leadership it taking in its share of those fleeing from Syria.

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  • Richard Underhill 26th Jun '15 - 5:41pm

    Tim Farron said:
    “It’s also important that we understand the power of language in debates around these issues. Our illiberal opponents often conflate terms like ‘immigrant’, ‘refugee’ and ‘asylum seeker’ – whether deliberately or not – and also introduce damaging and dehumanising labels like ‘bogus’ and ‘illegal’. We must stand up against this, and always promote accuracy, clarity and decency in debate to increase the chance of making good, effective and decent policies.”
    That is right, but he goes on to use the word “sanctuary” which is a religious term with no basis in law. Both the 1953 Refugee Convention and the Human Rights Act apply identically across the UK.

    We should remember the case of a Sinhala who sought sanctuary in a cathedrql in Manchester.
    He was not persecuted on return to Sri Lanka .

    Someone can become a refugee when crossing an international border miles away from the UK, but also needs to be “recognised” as a refugee by the authorities of a “safe country” or by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

    All the member states of the European Union have signed the 1953 Convention in full, but some may be reneging on their committments.
    There are two optional clauses, which provide major omissions to committment by states, such as Turkey, which in practice is hosting huge numbers of people who have fled from Syria.

    After the Human Rights Act came into force on Sunday 1/10/2000 the immigration courts in the UK decided to combine consideration of asylum and human rights into a single action with the same threshold, lest the judges should be involved in “intellectual gymnastics”.

    Areas of the UK which suffer emigration within the UK, such as Scotland, may have a more sympathetic attitude to appeals.

    Beware the advice of the Australian Prime Minister. Australia is an island (of continental size). Europe is part of the continent of EurAsia.

  • Most of those migrants are NOT from Syria. They are young economic migrants from Africa lured by traffickers to make money depleting countries of their youth and future. They are being told lies about the land of milk and honey. As we know Daesh is using this to infiltrate Europe. Bombing Libya was not a good idea was it? All you did was create anarchy and death in Libya and a route to Europe. We do not have the homes or infrastructure for those already living here but I expect this does not affect Mr Lamb. A pity he did not have compassion for those being bombed and killed in Libya when he voted for it and its aftermath.

  • Julie Maxon 26th Jun '15 - 6:45pm

    Why the issue with Tim using “sanctuary”? To me, a sanctuary is a refuge/place of safety from danger or persecution which is surely what we want Britain to be for those who need it. As far as I am concerned, the answers from Tim and Norman prove yet again that Tim is the man to lead us.

  • Richard Underhill 30th Jun '15 - 7:05pm

    We need to be clear about what the distinction between what the UK’s international obligations currently are in law and what changes Liberal Democrats want to make.

    The Human Rights Act was one of those changes, providing faster and cheaper access to human rights legislation by having the cases heard initially in courts in the UK, which is much better than waiting for the case to reach the European Court of Human rights and queue for a hearing.

    Tim Farron said (above) “The Liberal Democrats must make the case for a compassionate, open United Kingdom when it comes to asylum seekers – if we don’t, no one else will”.

    Tim please check up on what happened to the 1951 Refugee Convention, still in force in most countries across the world including all EU member states (although Australia is not fulfilling its obligations) and the equivalent United Nations Convention on statelessness, which has been signed by fewer countries.

    A samll number of stateless people become famous, such as chess grandmaster Korchnoi, whose nationality was revoked by the former Soviet Union and who travelled the world on a Swiss travel document, competing in chess tournaments.

    Much larger numbers of less famous people are stateless. The Blair-Brown governemtn switched from granting leave to remain to Bedouin, to changing secondary legislation to state that such people do not comply with the Immigration Rules. Although we only have eight MPs at present, we need assistants in the Commons to keep an eye on waht is happening.

  • Richard Underhill 30th Jun '15 - 7:25pm

    Tony Blair’s Lord Chancellor, Irvine, apparently thought that installing the Human Rights convention in full would mean that “the lawyers would have too much fun”.
    Not being a lawyer please consider the effects in practice of Articles 1 and 13.
    If there is an effective national remedy, such as a police force, complainants are likely to be told so, even though Article 13 is not incorporated in the UK, but only available at Strasbourg, after the usual long delay.

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