How can we still be here, after 70 years?
On 28th July 1951 26 countries signed the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.
Why do we have to continue arguing against the expulsion and return of refugees when it is counter to the terms of the Convention?
The Convention states
Article 23: Prohibition of expulsion or return (‘refoulement’)
1. No Contracting State shall expel or return (‘refouler’) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.
Why do we have to continue arguing that indefinite detention is illegal, against human rights and inhumane and contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile. (the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948).
How much longer will we have to walk, and talk, and tell the stories, retell the stories of refugees?
Refugee Tales IV
In this volume there are 14 stories, many detailing the spread of indefinite detention in other countries. Contributions are made by detainees as well as by Shami Chakrabarti, Robert Macfarlane, Bidisha, Rachel Seiffert, Dina Nayeri, Philippe Sands and Christy Lefteri.
These are stories of refugees’ experiences of seeking asylum, mostly about young men, shunted around the system, escaping only to be caught again in the endless battle to gain accepted status. Lives are wasted. Time spent studying is wasted. Conditions for living are terrible. Spirits are dashed. Help is well-meaning but often inadequate against the mysteries and convolutions of the legal processes. Each story is distressing in its own way. Each story reveals a small part of the system that makes up the hostile environment.
From the Advocate’s Tale
Put yourself in the shoes of those people fleeing their home, seeking refuge here in the United Kingdom, or in neighbouring countries. Once you made it here you would expect to receive some sort of help or protection, right? Well, in my case it was the opposite. My experience in detention was worse than I can describe. (122)
It is a terrible waste of people’s lives to be in indefinite detention. The accumulation within the four volumes of Refugee Tales is a terrible indictment of UK policy. Refugees have to wait, and wait some more, and are not allowed to work, or to be useful members of their community. It is difficult to promote their case, to access legal help, to access and help. And at any moment they might be released or put on a flight back to the country which tried to kill them.
It takes a terrible toll on people’s mental health to be in indefinite detention. In the first place, there is the injustice of being imprisoned when they have done nothing wrong. Then they must endure being powerless to resist. But worse, much worse, is the uncertainty, of the wait, lack of knowledge of the twists and turns of asylum law and what their fate will be. Several refugees report that they suffered more in indefinite detention than from the events that forced them to flee their country.
And don’t let’s even mention how refugees have been abandoned to the coronavirus in the Napier Barracks, and how fear is being stoked about those who try to reach the UK across the English Channel, or against those who are dubbed economic migrants. Or the Nationalities and Borders Bill of 2021
This is not what a decent society should do. This is not what a country that signed up to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugee and to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights should do.
And there are good people doing the right thing: rescuing people from drowning; welcoming refugees on arrival; providing material help; providing advice; and campaigning; collecting stories to share.
Yet here we are: still arguing against indefinite detention; still walking; still talking and telling stories. There’s only one thing for it: we must persist. We must work towards making the UK a place where refugees can ‘expect to receive some sort of help or protection’.
Refugee Tales IV Edited by David Herd & Anna Pincus published in 2021, by Comma Press. 161pp
Refugee Tales Edited by David Herd & Anna Pincus (February 2017)
Refugee Tales -2 Edited by David Herd & Anna Pincus (March 2018)
Refugee Tales III Edited by David Herd & Anna Pincus (June 2020)