Asylum is a human rights issue. Given the tone of public debate in the last few years, you could be forgiven for not realising that, or having forgotten it. Asylum policy is about ensuring that people who have suffered appalling persecution are given the protection they’re entitled to. That’s not mentioned very often either. So it was heartening to see a room full of people at the Lib Dem conference in Liverpool for a discussion organised by the Refugee Council and UNHCR on ‘Asylum Policy: Honouring Our Refugee Protection Commitments’.
The meeting brought together Tom Brake MP, Roland Schilling (UNHCR UK Representative), Donna Covey, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council and Abdul Turay, who fled persecution in Liberia in 2002. Julian Huppert MP was in the chair.
The Lib Dem presence in the coalition has already brought about positive changes in the asylum system – the commitment to end the detention of children, the decision to grant protection to people who have been persecuted on the grounds of their sexuality. People at the meeting were keen to explore what more can be done to push the rest of Lib Dem asylum agenda forward. There were lots of questions on detention and destitution, with activists eager to see progress made now that the party is in government.
It was noted that for the first time in many years, there’s some political space in this area. There are real opportunities to make changes which will save government money and give asylum seekers dignity. And they’re changes that Lib Dems have long called for – permission to work for asylum seekers and an end to the practice of indefinite detention, for instance.
Continued Lib Dem support for these policies is vital. Next year is the 60th anniversary of the UN Refugee Convention, which has saved the lives of countless people fleeing persecution. The Lib Dems should mark this anniversary by seizing the moment to push for further changes to improve the lives of refugees and asylum seekers. Surely this is one of the best ways to honour the commitment to refugee protection, which sadly is needed today as much as it was 60 years ago.
Marilyn Croser is Campaigns and Parliamentary Manager at the Refugee Council
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