Tim Farron MP writes: Lib Dems would restore decency and dignity for refugees

The sight of refugees arriving on the Greek coast in 2015 will never leave me. It’s not the sort of thing you forget.

Parents and children were packed onto makeshift boats in search of safety, fleeing Syria, Iraq, Eritrea and other brutal conflicts around the world.

This isn’t a ‘refugee crisis’, even if that is what we have ended up calling it. It is a crisis of violence and persecution, with dictators and murder squads killing and displacing families across the world. Refugees are the human face of what has gone so badly wrong. 

Refugee Week is underway (it is World Refugee Day tomorrow), which is a timely reminder of Britain’s role supporting people who have been forced to flee their homes, both in the work we do in refugee camps around the world and in how we treat asylum seekers who make it to our shores and ask for help.

The current system lacks decency and dignity. The Lib Dems would restore these values.

Firstly, and crucially, the quality of asylum decisions is nothing short of a national scandal. The Home Office wrongly refuses people sanctuary so often that around 40% decisions are overturned on appeal each year. The result is that people who have already endured so much are left scared and uncertain, when they should have been promised safety here much more quickly. 

This can’t be allowed to continue. The whole process needs reform, from top to bottom.

We shouldn’t just focus on decisions, though. Even as the government focuses on improving integration in our country, for example, asylum seekers are barred from working. 

Work helps people integrate, learn English, and contribute to society – all things asylum seekers badly want to do.

So let’s join-up government a bit better and give people the chance to work if their asylum claim is delayed. There is nothing liberal about forcing people who can work to sit around all day doing nothing. 

Plus we should celebrate what we already do well, and plan for how to do more of it.

The scheme for resettling Syrians in Britain has now brought over ten thousand refugees to live here, more than half of them children. It is on track to help twenty thousand Syrians by the time it is scheduled to close in 2021. This is something to welcome, and we do. 

We also need to make sure that our generosity continues after that. Decisions about future funding are approaching fast. The Lib Dems would commit to taking more refugees through a flexible programme, and the government should commit the same. 

The party should be proud of its record on helping refugees. It was the Lib Dems who ended the detention of children in immigration centres while we were in government, for example. We went into the coalition knowing that these centres were no places for kids. Within a year the rules had changed, in the teeth of opposition from the Tories.

It wasn’t easy but it was the right thing to do. It was about ensuring the dignity and safety of people who might otherwise be forgotten.

This is what Lib Dems have always focused on, and it is what we focus on now.

As Britain decides what role it wants to play in the world, with the government and opposition both caught in the mud over Brexit, liberal values are more essential than ever.

We can’t help everyone in need of a sanctuary. But where we can help, we should. 

War and persecution around the world has not ended, even if it is on the evening news a little less often. We owe it to refugees, and to ourselves, to have the right support in place if people come to us for sanctuary. 

* Tim Farron is Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Agriculture and MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale.

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  • John Marriott 19th Jun '18 - 4:46pm

    The dilemma I face is that asylum seekers, political and social refugees, and economic migrants tend to blend into one. It’s clear that, until we start to sort out the problems caused by war and famine in certain parts of the world we are never going to get a grip on a problem that has dedevilled societies over millennia.

    My particular concern is what to do about the boatloads of migrants that are once again appearing off the coast of Libya. How many of these people are fleeing persecution and how many are just seeking a better life in the West is debatable. I reckon it could be mainly the latter. In this respect I have a great deal of sympathy for the Italian Government, in particular, whose country has been a large dumping ground masquerading as a processing centre because of its close proximity to where the action is.

    The knee jerk reaction from many may just be to send them back from whence they came. In the end that might be the temporary answer, despite the howls of protest it will undoubtedly engender, if agreement could be reached with failed states like Libya, from where most of the rubber boats appear to be being launched, as well as working with other states, predominantly in Africa, from where many appear to come, to discourage large numbers of people from handing over their earnings to unscrupulous middle men who promise them a better life.

    Not a very ‘liberal’ response, probably; but an open door is just not an option I would entertain.

  • John Marriott – my issue is that the rules are not the same for everyone. “Closing the doors” to people is fine, but it needs to be to everyone, including Australians, Americans and everyone else we might take a fancy to. What about citizenship in exchange for investment? What “checks” etc are made on someone applying through this process? It also seems to me (and this is a feeling, so therefore I am probably wrong, but this is how it reads to me, nevertheless) that whilst I understand that people are concerned how vast numbers of new people affect a local infrastructure, this is for too many a cover for the real reasons that they object to migration, which are more existential. And, I want to be able to debate that out with them.

  • nigel hunter 19th Jun '18 - 9:53pm

    If they come to the West for a better life would it not be sensible to fund individual groups in the countries involved to develop their own wealth without their Governments interference.and to use their resources for wealth generation and for less to be consumed by the West.

  • John Marriott 20th Jun '18 - 6:54am

    Yes, indeed, it should include every nationality of whatever ethnicity.

    @Nigel Hunter
    You are so right!

  • Martin Walker 20th Jun '18 - 8:14am

    Excellent and timely article by Tim. With the UK outraged by Windrush and the world outraged by the separation of parents from children under Trump, we have a window in which we, as the Party who has campaigned longer and harder on this than any other, can argue for a radical, liberal, humane policy. Let’s hope the Policy Working Group on this issue catches up.

  • There is certainly an urgent need for clarity on the issue of the mass movements of people. We need to start with the need not to do harm to other countries. This includes bombing people when we decide to interfere in another country, or selling them weapons, or not trying to ensure that British people or citizens do not use business methods in other countries which would not be acceptable here. We must turn our attention to the best ways of promoting prosperity in other countries. This should include how we react to revolution in another country. Is it really acceptable to choose sides? Finally we must start to find ways of being interested in other countries on a long term basis – not just when they happen to make the lead on the evening news.
    My own view is that we need to find a way of re-introducing real news programmes to television.

  • Richard Underhill 22nd Jun '18 - 9:24am

    The 1953 United Convention on the Status of Refugees was created to deal with the aftermath of the Second World War, basically
    Look at what the Nazis did and
    do the opposite.
    In the UK it has to be read simultaneously with the European Convention on Human Rights, particularly Articles 2,3 and 4, but different countries have been adopting differing laws, thereby undermining the fact that the 1953 Convention has been signed by so many countries, more than the UN Convention on Statelessness (from which the Labour government in the UK has withdrawn).
    The courts in the UK have ruled that fleeing a war, such as in Somalia, is not sufficient for a grant of refugee status, if the applicant has not been persecuted individually.
    The 1953 Convention is therefore uniquely valuable while being out of date. Before 1967 it only covered “Events in Europe before 1953”. EU expansion required countries such as Hungary to sign up for the 1967 option, but did they implement what they had agreed to? Imagine an ethnic Hungarian leaving Romania and transiting Hungary. Unlike ethnic Germans from Romania, who were accepted by West Germany, ethnic Hungarians were not motivated even to apply for protection in the first safe country they reached.
    Tim uses the word “sanctuary” above, when words such as asylum, protection and safe are the relevant legal words. Sanctuary is a religious concept, dependent on an equal concept of religion. The 1953 Convention provides protection to all religions more generously than most countries would want to do. Think of the various people at risk from ISIS in Iraq, not just various Christians and various Muslims, should they be excluded from protection?

  • William Fowler 11th Jul '18 - 5:20pm

    UK is already massively overpopulated and straining at the seams… some deal with an impoverished but peaceful African country – whereby the West can make a payment for each individual they take in – is the only solution I can think of that would be fair to all and would at the same time discourage economic refugees.

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