Wow. Like many others I was amazed when I heard Theresa May was calling a general election. It’s a huge moment and I’m absolutely convinced that whatever happens on 8 June, we can make Britain a safe haven for refugees.
First, we need to ensure the voices of refugees and people seeking asylum in Britain are heard. Refugee Action will be sharing with our supporters and with prospective MPs of all parties the experiences of the people we work with and how their lives can be improved. This is an important opportunity for parties to make clear commitments to refugees and people seeking sanctuary.
Second, we need to join up. Immigration will doubtless be a high profile and highly contested area of debate in this election. It’s essential that all groups with a shared vision for UK refugee policy work together to maximum effect over the next couple of months. This doesn’t mean a grand coalition or lengthy policy proposals! It means agreement on our top priorities, and more importantly on how our actions can reinforce one another. Groups like Citizens UK and City of Sanctuary will doubtless do amazing work engaging voters and candidates at the constituency level. We look forward to collaborating with them and many others, as we make a passionate case for Britain welcoming refugees.
Third, we need to be clear what we want. Our core message is simple: Britain should be leading the global effort to protect those who have lost everything and have been forced to flee conflict, persecution and terror. Tragically, the needs of refugees have never been greater. There are now sixty million people who have been forced to abandon their homes.
Our response to their plight is a litmus test of our compassion, and a core part of developing a truly global Britain. We will not solve this problem alone of course, but we must step up and contribute alongside others. This means enabling refugees to find safety, receive justice and contribute to society whether they are in Uganda, Jordan or Britain. We absolutely reject the divisive idea that some refugees deserve more rights, compassion and support than others. No-one chooses to be a refugee.
This simple message needs to be accompanied by clear calls to all parties. These should include the simple principle that every person seeking refuge in the UK should have a fair and effective hearing, a commitment to welcome refugees regardless of how they arrive and ensure they have the support needed to rebuild their lives, and an end to the scandal of indefinite detention.
The last Conservative manifesto stated that “being able to speak English is a fundamental part of integrating in our society”. That recognition must now be turned into a concrete pledge by all parties to enable all refugees full and equal access to English language lessons and the 300 hundred hours of tuition they typically need.
We must also seek a commitment to maintain and expand the resettlement scheme established when David Cameron was Prime Minister. More than 200 local authorities have already chosen to welcome Syrian refugees in the past 18 months, with the support of local communities. This vital work must continue throughout the next Parliament.
Finally, we must prepare to work with all parties to meet the challenges and opportunities of next Parliament. Now. If the polls are right, the current Prime Minister will be returned with a majority of 150 – 200. The last couple of years have taught us that nothing is certain. But we need to be ready from day one of the new Parliament to make a positive case to a new government with a new mandate, and to challenge proposals that would deny justice and make it harder for refugees to successfully rebuild their lives and contribute to their new communities.
Very few people expected this election. But it’s happening. We will be a part of it, working with others to engage with the main parties and their candidates. The needs of refugees are certain to be part of the public debate over the next seven weeks. It’s an opportunity for all of us who believe in making Britain a safe haven to make our voices heard and to involve others in the growing movement to make Britain a country that welcomes refugees.
Find out more about our work campaigning for the rights of refugees and people seeking asylum in Britain here.