In Changing Times Britain Must Play Its Full Part in Supporting Refugees

08/07/2016 09:16 | Updated 08 July 2016

Wow. We certainly live in changing times. As the dust settles, Britain must play its full part in the global response to the refugee emergency and use this unsettling period to renew our commitment to helping people rebuild their lives in safety.

The EU Referendum is of course the most momentous of the many changes in recent weeks. But it's not a turning point for Britain's approach to asylum seekers and refugees. UK refugee policy is made in London not Brussels.

The Referendum has led to the resignation of the Prime Minister, and was dominated by an often rancorous debate on immigration. These developments have big implications for the way our country responds to the needs of asylum seekers and refugees. They could lead to change for the better, or for the worse. We could turn our back on those or in need, or become an even greater country united in creating a positive future for everyone including those fleeing wars and persecution.

Refugee Action and our supporters will work with many others to make this a positive turning point. We must re-assert the view of the compassionate majority in the UK who want Britain to be a country where people live well together. There is no place for the appalling racist incidents in recent weeks.

The early actions of the new Leader of the Conservative party and our next Prime Minister will be hugely important. We must continue to be a welcoming nation to those in dire need, many torn apart from their families and facing horrors and uncertainties most of us thankfully have never experienced. That is the Britain I know.

Despite the stormy debates during the Referendum, no mainstream politician during the Referendum questioned Britain's commitment to support refugees. But as we negotiate our way through the choppy waters ahead there are big decisions to make.

Our government is in charge of these decisions, as they always have been. It was David Cameron, with his Home Secretary, who decided we would resettle 20,000 Syrians before 2020. It was David Cameron and his Home Secretary who committed to welcome up to 3,000 unaccompanied children from Europe. These decisions showed how vital it is to lead right from the top.

But there have also been some deeply regrettable messages and actions from the present government. First, there has been a failure to recognize that every person seeking asylum in the UK is entitled to a fair hearing and that all refugees need to be able to rebuild their lives. Second, the government has failed to develop an integration strategy for refugees. Britain's refugees want to work and to be a part of their new communities. So far our government has made it very difficult for them to do so.

September is an incredibly important month. September 2nd is the anniversary of the tragic death of the Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, which inspired tens of thousands to volunteer, march and donate to help refugees in Britain, in Europe and across the world. On 17th September, Amnesty, Oxfam, Refugee Action, and dozens of other organisations are coming together for a national #Refugeeswelcome march. A few days after the election of the new Prime Minister, we will send a loud and clear message that Britain has not forgotten the millions of people that are still living in fear for their lives every day.

On the 19th September our new Prime Minister will make probably their first outing on the world stage. It will be in New York at a global summit on refugees - a platform to tell the world that Britain remains an open and compassionate country, and that Britain will play its full part in the global response. It's also a platform to make commitments to act. In our view two stand out. First, it's time to change the rules that prevent families from being reunited with their loved ones. Second, it's time for Britain to end the scandalous shortage of English lessons for refugees. Refugee Action has set out here how the government can do this, for the benefit of us all.

There's been a lot of noise in recent weeks. Let's remind ourselves what this is really about. Omar, a Syrian refugee, told us; "Britain gave me another life. All the people I have met have been nice to me. We have to respect, we have to help each other. I have not seen that (in many countries), but I see it in the UK".