Refugee Week starts today

// 16 June 2008

Refugee Week logoRefugee Week began today, and there is a full programme of events going on up and down the country.

Also see this piece in the Guardian, in which Mark Haddon visits the Migrant Resources Centre in London.

There’s a sharp reminder of the way that the immigration debate has become derailed:

Mario, the MRC’s legal adviser, came to the UK in 1978, with his wife and sister-in-law, after escaping from Colombia, where the government had 68,000 of its opponents behind bars. They were terrified and knew nothing about asylum law. All the immigration officials who dealt with their claim, however, were helpful, courteous and surprisingly knowledgeable about Colombian politics. The three of them were granted temporary admission. The following year they were given full refugee status. ‘I can only be grateful to the UK for the protection offered to me and my family during those difficult days… After nearly 30 years here, I have two children and one granddaughter. We feel British. When I come back to the UK after visiting my elderly parents I always feel as if I am coming home.’

Mario’s is not an isolated case. I’ve spoken to a number of refugees who arrived in the UK 10, 15, 20 years ago. Most were impressed and surprised by the warmth of the welcome they received, and none of them went through the demeaning experiences that many of today’s asylum seekers go through.

What happened during those intervening years? Of course, there has always been racism and intolerance, but only in recent times have these sentiments been allowed to drive and shape official government policy.

Comments From You

katarina // Posted 17 June 2008 at 9:11 am

This is mindblowing. I have a very unpleasant sensation that Australia’s extreme policies towards asylum seekers may have inspired UK policy. Australia’s hostile policies began under a labour government: locking asylum seekers up for years on end in camps in the desert; redirecting them to Nauru and paying the Nauruan people a fortune to make sure they didn’t get to Australia; excising Christmas island and saying that making it that far wasn’t making it to Australia; deliberately not rescuing a sinking ship with asylum seekers on board.

Conservative prime minister John Howard advanced and publicized these policies, and apparently the public liked it. He stayed in power for 11 years, even after sending soldiers to Iraq to turn more people into asylum seekers.

What can you say? I’m just glad the F word passed on the piece yesterday about decent people in Glasgow.

Soirore // Posted 17 June 2008 at 11:32 am

My local council always puts on loads of good events for refugee week and it’s a really positive time generally. Except two years ago when my employer offered us time off to go to relevant talks several of my colleagues hit off, asking why should foreigners get special events. Their racism and xenophobia really angered me. But in the same way it reminded me that there are lots of people around who are like them. So these events and the publicity that communities supporting asylum seekers are getting is really important. We need to get back to welcoming and supporting asylum seekers. I’m really scared of the way it’s going like the Australian model.

Matt // Posted 15 June 2009 at 4:12 pm

This week Oxfam and their partners are making a special effort to celebrate the contribution of refugees to the UK through a series of events up and down the country.

As part of this the UK Poverty Post will be publishing some specially commissioned blogs in support of Refugee Week.

Today they begin with a post from Krisnah Poinasamy who talks about what a refugee is, previews some of the events taking place this week and outlines why Oxfam works with refugees.

Check out Krisnah’s post and add your comments. Don’t forget to keep looking throughout the week for posts about the Still Human Still Here campaign, refugees living in destitution, the refugee media awards, the contribution refugees have made to British culture and much more!

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