THE BLOG
11/09/2015 13:31 BST | Updated 11/09/2016 06:12 BST

The Pleas of the Voiceless May Be All Too Easy to Ignore - The Tens of Thousands Marching Through London Will Be Harder to Dismiss

On Saturday I'll join thousands of others - including my Liberty colleagues and many of our members - to take to the streets of London in solidarity with refugees. We will march to show the powerful that we see through the barrage of poisonous, dehumanising rhetoric with which we've been bombarded in recent years. These refugees are not a "swarm", as the Prime Minister labelled them, and they're not "marauding" as they were branded by the Foreign Secretary. They are not, as they have been variously described in the media, an "organised mob", an "unstoppable flood" or "the biggest threat to Europe since the war". They are desperate human beings fleeing war, genocide, tyranny and exploitation in the hope of finding a better life for their families.

On Saturday I'll join thousands of others - including my Liberty colleagues and many of our members - to take to the streets of London in solidarity with refugees.

We will march to show the powerful that we see through the barrage of poisonous, dehumanising rhetoric with which we've been bombarded in recent years. These refugees are not a "swarm", as the Prime Minister labelled them, and they're not "marauding" as they were branded by the Foreign Secretary. They are not, as they have been variously described in the media, an "organised mob", an "unstoppable flood" or "the biggest threat to Europe since the war".

They are desperate human beings fleeing war, genocide, tyranny and exploitation in the hope of finding a better life for their families. They don't want to take what's ours - just to find somewhere safe. And, to find that safety, they are willing to force themselves into unventilated lorries, cram themselves under car bonnets and risk their lives crossing dangerous waters in flimsy dinghies.

We'll march to tell our leaders unequivocally that we will not be complicit in the Government's collective failure of courage and compassion. The number of people seeking asylum fluctuates depending on war, persecution and crises around the world - but it is not affected by vicious domestic policies which make life even harder for asylum seekers and harm British citizens too.

Since coming to power, the Government has quietly slashed the already shamefully low financial support available to asylum seekers without so much as a public statement. And, just yesterday, the Home Office again refused to commit to a 28-day time limit on immigration detention, despite passionate calls for change on both sides of the Commons. Limitless detention - including of those with long-term mental health issues, victims of torture and rape, pregnant women and mothers separated from their children - is an open invitation to abuse, and one of the greatest stains on this country's conscience.

The Justice Minister has this week announced that proposals for a British Bill of Rights - with which they intend to replace our Human Rights Act - will be published towards the end of autumn. What scant plans we've seen so far suggest an attack on the universality of fundamental human rights - to life, to not be tortured, to not be enslaved - in favour of citizens' privileges, handed out at the whim of partisan politicians.

Many of us won the lottery - we were born into a wealthy country, the longest unbroken democracy in the world. But we are all foreigners somewhere. In this shrinking world, we have to decide whether to seek protection as humans everywhere, or live with the vulnerability of being foreigners in every country but our own. I know in which direction I want my country to lead.

And we'll march to demand in the loudest terms that we must do more. Which of the Conservatives' much-trumpeted British values is more patriotic than our proud history of taking in those who need sanctuary? From Huguenots and Soviets to East African Asians and German Jews. Then as now, often in the same newspapers, the same arguments were made - it's too expensive, we don't have the room, helping refugees won't help stop the conflicts that have caused them to flee. But we did what was right - and the United Kingdom has been all the better for it.

The number of asylum seekers applying for refuge in Britain is much, much lower than in many other EU countries. In 2014, we received 31,400 asylum applications - less than a fifth of the figure in Germany (166,800), fewer than in France (63,100), Italy (56,300) and Sweden (81,300) and far short of the UK peak of 84,130 in 2003. We receive well below the EU average for asylum applications per head of population.

We should not be leaving the responsibility to other countries, battening down the hatches and pulling down the blinds. We have a duty to help. This week the government was shamed into accepting 20,000 refugees over the course of the next five years - but this partial, reluctant response doesn't even come close to acknowledging the scale of the unfolding humanitarian tragedy. Nor does it address or reverse the cruel policies and rhetoric that deny those who do reach our shores the compassion and dignity they deserve.

Most of all, we'll march tomorrow to send a clear message to those in need of safe haven that they are not alone. Our leaders, pandering to xenophobia, may think they can get away with doing the bare minimum and accepting a derisory number of refugees - but we reject this ugly ideology, devoid of empathy and basic humanity.

The pleas of the voiceless and vote-less may be all too easy to ignore - but tens of thousands marching in solidarity through London will be far harder to dismiss.

Shami Chakrabarti is the director of Liberty, and is speaking at 3pm at the Solidarity With Refugees March on Saturday 12 September