Danger: Celebrating 70th anniversary of the UN Refugee Convention maybe our last

28th Jul 2021

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Take part in Together With Refugees’ Orange Hearts Pledge Campaign

Today (28 July) marks the 70th anniversary since the UK signed the UN Refugee Convention. Following the horrors of World War Two, we committed alongside other nations to protect people fleeing war and persecution. Since then, the convention has saved thousands of people – including those fleeing civil war in the Balkans, torture in Zimbabwe and war in Syria. That’s something we can all be proud of now, and something we must protect for the future. 

It’s particularly vital because the Government’s new Bill threatens the UK’s commitment to the fundamental principles of the convention and of the UK as a place of refugee protection. As the UN warned of the UK’s plans recently in unusually strong language: “UNHCR is concerned that the plan, if implemented as it stands, will undermine the 1951 Convention and international protection system, not just in the UK, but globally.”   

The Orange Hearts campaign gathers pledges of support from local people to be projected on landmarks across the country, as the Nationality and Borders Bill is considered by MPs in October and December.

Seven refugees from seven decades and seven places will come together to celebrate 70 years of the UK welcoming refugees. They will tell their powerful stories and the people who welcomed them. Just as the UK did 70 years ago, the seven people taking part will sign their names to signify support for the spirit of the convention. But this time they will be signing a large orange heart – the symbol of a kinder, fairer approach to refugees.

You can also join and Share Refugee Action’s #CommitToResettlement campaign, calling on the Government to announce a target for refugee resettlement (it’s the first time in almost two decades the Government hasn’t done this).

Nationality and Borders Bill 

The Government’s long trailed Nationality and Borders Bill was introduced to Parliament last week, and MPs will debate it for the first time next week. There are then many months of discussion ahead before it becomes law. 

If passed, this cruel law would be a hammer blow to the UK as a place of safety for people fleeing war and persecution. Worse still, it will compound problems in the system that really do need to be fixed. As well as being inhumane, many of its provisions will be expensive and unworkable.

The Government says the proposed new law will put in place measures to ‘fix the broken asylum system’ which it set out in the New Plan for Immigration in April’21. Yet while it does little to address pressing problems in the system, such as the large and growing backlog of people waiting for decisions on their asylum claim, it contains measures which compound these and make it ever harder for people fleeing war and persecution to find safety in the UK. 

Some of the key areas of concern in the Bill identified by members of Together With Refugees include:

  • Creating two classes of refugees based not on why they have come here (what forced them to flee their home) but on how they have come (for example, if they had no option to come here other than via irregular routes such as in lorries or boats). The government would be empowered to make their claim for asylum inadmissible (no matter how valid) and expel them to another country. Or, if unable to do this, it could give them only a temporary status with less rights to be reunited with their family or receive support to live on. This could mean an estimated 9,000 to 21,600 people a year that the UK currently recognises as refugees being turned away in future. 
  • Powers to expel asylum-seekers ‘off-shore’ to another country where they have no connection – similar to the deeply controversial approach used by Australia. 
  • A shift to putting asylum-seekers in institutional reception centres, rather than housing them in the community where they can receive more support and start to rebuild their lives. This is despite the scandal of the appalling conditions and Covid outbreaks suffered by asylum-seekers housed in disused army barracks over the last year.  
  • Criminalising the people helping asylum-seekers reach the UK via irregular routes – not just people smugglers but potentially refugees themselves, or others providing help by rescuing refugees at risk at sea, for example.
  • The lack of any firm commitments in the Bill (or New Plan for Immigration) on refugees coming to the UK through organised international resettlement programmes. This is despite the government’s supposed support for ‘legal’ routes which it’s using to justify other measures to block ‘illegal’ refugees. 

Take action 

One aim of the media and social media activity on 28 July is to launch Together With Refugees’ Orange Hearts Pledge campaign. From August to December 2021 we’re calling on Together With Refugees coalition members in local communities across the country to: 

  • Mobilise local people to pledge and project their support for those fleeing war and persecution.
  • Gather these pledges into huge orange hearts to be displayed at iconic landmarks in their areas. The displays will be coordinated nationwide for set dates in October and December, as the Nationality and Borders Bill is considered by MPs.
  • Lobby local constituency MPs on the Bill and advocate for a kinder, fairer and more effective approach to refugees, to show their voters care. Write to your local MP and get them involved. 
  • Join Wandsworth Welcomes Refugees – contact them here.
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