Safe way?

The Home Office’ s proposals to change the Asylum law is disturbing. They don’t reflect an understanding of the hardship and difficulties that refugees face. Desperate people resort to desperate actions risking their lives to find a better life.

It is very difficult for these people to come directly to Britain. No visitor visa, no way of boarding a plane. It is unlikely those in conflict zones can obtain a visa anyway. They will have to cross borders and journey across countries to reach Britain.

The measures proposed to send them back are not based on any humanitarianism but a simple desire to keep foreigners out of Brexit Britain. Indeed, there is no legal basis for the EU to accept those that have crossed their territories and I doubt if the EU is in any hurry to make such an agreement. Britain in fact has a smaller number of people seeking asylum than other western European countries.

In these last few years, I have got to know some Pakistani Christian refugees who have fled to Bangkok. They faced a situation where Christians were being murdered and being driven out of their homes. The level of intolerance led to heavy discrimination making life extremely difficult. I knew of someone who tried to set up a Unitarian church. He faced death threats and eventually his employer told him he would not employ him any longer as he didn’t want the company to have any trouble.

In pre-Covid days Thailand granted tourist visas easily to facilitate its large tourist industry. Getting a tourist visa was not difficult. However, those Pakistani refugees found they lacked the financial resources to extend it. There are other groups such as Palestinians who face the same problems. These groups cannot find work and do not speak Thai. Refugees find themselves dependent on charitable organisations which operate with a low profile.

Thailand does not grant asylum as it is not part of its immigration law so the refugees find themselves regarded as illegals. This means being stopped in the streets and asked to show their passports by men in white tee-shirts. This happens especially to those of African appearance. Many refugees often do not venture out of their accommodation. The authorities want to reduce the numbers of overstayers.

Of course, there are round ups when the police come and knock on doors and the refugees are sent to the Immigration detention centre, or should I say prison. There they live in overcrowded conditions. I have seen the paddy wagon on its way there with unfortunate Burmese who have been detained.

Thailand is the land of the refugee. On its eastern border there were once camps that housed thousands of Cambodians, in the north Hmong refugees from Laos. Today on its western border there are camps that house Karen refugees from Burma many of whom have languished there for decades. With the situation in Myanmar now expect a further way of refugees.

But what of this safe and legal way? Few details are available. Britain should uphold the Refugee Convention which the UK is a signatory to.

* Ian Martin lives in Thailand. He is a lifelong Liberal and a member of the Liberal Democrat Overseas executive.

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  • Nigel Jones 25th Mar '21 - 8:45pm

    Ian, thank you for telling us about Thailand. I am sure most Lib-Dems share your concerns. Priti Patel’s policies are part of a worrying trend in our government and we are frequently being deceived by Boris Johnson. He has said occasionally that Britain coming out of the EU means we will play our part as an independent nation in the world, yet he supports these moves and has simultaneously broken out commitment to overseas aid. Michale Heseltine was probably correct in his assessment that Brexit was mainly about stopping people coming here and he also said that one of the main ways of tackling the migrant problem was to do much more to help people in the countries they were fleeing from.
    It is also noteworthy that with the exception of Italy, other European countries are taking more refugees than we are.

  • Peter Hirst 28th Mar '21 - 3:25pm

    What we need is a world wide system of humanitarian visas perhaps overseen by the United Nations. These would provide safe travel to the desired destination to those fleeing persecution. Perhaps Britain could use its new freedom to lead on devising such a system.

  • Peter
    Years ago there were Nasen passports. Nansen passports, originally and officially stateless persons passports, were internationally recognized refugee travel documents from 1922 to 1938, first issued by the League of Nations to stateless refugees.
    Today there are World passports but these lack recognition,

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