We’re celebrating Refugee Week this year in the shadow of some of the most regressive policies towards refugees in decades.
Often, Refugee Week is when governments choose to announce more aid for the world’s refugees or commit to renewed international cooperation. But this year, we should be more concerned than ever about the future of the international consensus that saw the Refugee Convention signed into law 70 years ago.
Boris Johnson’s “New Plan for Immigration” announced earlier this year aims to remove the rights of most of the refugees who currently qualify for protection here in Britain, denying them refugee status in an attempt to shirk our obligations.
Analysis of Home Office data by the Refugee Council found that on average, 15,410 people were granted refugee status each year from 2015-2020.
Based on the claim in the New Immigration Plan that “for the year ending September 2019, more than 60 per cent of those claims were from people who are thought to have entered the UK illegally”, it is projected that 9,246 of these would no longer be accepted as refugees under the new rules.
But it’s not only here in the UK that sanctuary is under threat. Just last week, the Greek government passed a law that will refuse the majority of refugees arriving from Turkey. This comes in the wake of Denmark’s announcement that it will revoke the residency of hundreds of Syrian refugees to force them out of the country.
Across Europe, governments are attempting to re-write who is and is not a refugee based on the journey they were forced to take, rather than whether they need protection, ripping up refugees’ rights in the process.
70 years ago, many of these nations came together to agree that never again would refugees fleeing an oppressive regime be left without protection. They acknowledged that international cooperation was fundamental to this agreement and that expecting others to shoulder the responsibility does not work.
In stark contrast, last year the UK government stopped family reunions for hundreds of refugee children and separated families across Europe, and closed the “Dubs” scheme which provided sanctuary in the UK for some of the most vulnerable unaccompanied children in camps and shelters in Europe.
Rather than expanding safe routes for refugees to seek protection in Europe, Boris Johnson’s Global Britain is instead asking the rest of the world to do more so we can do less.
At Safe Passage International, we see the impact that this failure of solidarity has on refugees in countries like Greece where we work. Unaccompanied children spend many months, and sometimes years, of their childhoods in refugee camps in Europe. Their futures are on hold because there are no safe routes to sanctuary, and the lack of security and stability takes an immeasurable psychological toll.
This Refugee Week, we start the fightback. 200 organisations have joined Together With Refugees to campaign for a return to the principles of international cooperation and compassion, to campaign for new and ambitious safe routes for refugees, and to oppose policies that dismantle refugee rights.
The policies of our governments do a disservice to the post-war generation who came together to offer refuge to those most in need. This Refugee Week, it has never been more important to live up to the promise of that generation.
Beth Gardiner-Smith is chief executive of the charity Safe Passage International
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