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Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Birmingham: refugee conference report
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¬†Around 100 people from all round the country gathered for the National Catholic Refugee Forum meeting in Birmingham on Saturday 30 June 2001, at the end of Refugee Week. Entitled Bonus Not Bogus: Welcoming the Unknown, the focus for the day was the European context for the local work with asylum seekers and refugees by Church members all round the country. Lena Barrett, assistant director of Jesuit Refugee Service Europe, spoke passionately against the closing of borders to asylum seekers by EU member states. She condemned their "hypocrisy. Pointing out that all 15 EU member states had signed the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Ms. Barrett stated: "To recognise the right to asylum and then to close borders, denying access to the exercise of that right, is hypocritical." Ms. Barrett then pointed out that the consequence of denying access to those fleeing from persecution may result in the death of asylum seekers. The Forum meeting also agreed a statement of concerns, which was sent from the meeting to Lord Rooker, Home Officer Minister for Citizenship and Immigration. Statement of Concerns agreed by the National Catholic Refugee Forum - 30 June 2001 1. Voucher System. The current method of offering support to asylum seekers via a voucher system is humiliating, invites racism, and is not adequate to the needs of asylum seekers. £36.54 is a paltry sum on which to live. Its value is further diminished when the majority of this amount is given in vouchers, which are redeemable at a few shops and for which no change is given. We are dismayed that the findings of the government review of the voucher system have not yet been published. We look forward to seeing the government,s findings and hope that the voucher system will be abolished or at the very least that cash change will be made available. 2. The Dispersal System. It is our view that the dispersal system has been ill-considered and insufficiently planned for. It is evident that the dispersal of groups of asylum seekers into the regions could only cause ill feelings among the local population if that population is not prepared for their arrival. Funding and structures should have been put in place to raise awareness of the local host communities of the reasons for dispersal, about the people who were being dispersed and to allay fears that local authorities would foot the bill. It also has been ill-considered to place asylum seekers in isolated areas, with little access to public transport, and often at great distance from the local services and the Crown Post Office from which they are meant to collect their vouchers. We continue to have concerns about the standards of accommodation in which asylum seekers have been housed and are dismayed at the rising incidence of racial attacks on asylum seekers and on British citizens from ethnic communities, who have been mistaken for asylum seekers. 3. Detention. We are dismayed at the continued and increased use of detention, which we see as a deterrent measure, which is unnecessary in the vast majority of cases. We are particularly concerned that asylum seekers are detained in prisons. We are also dismayed to hear that provision is being made for the detention of families, including minor children, in the new detention centres at Harmondsworth and Yarlswood. It is our conviction that children should never be detained. 4. Harmonisation of Asylum Legislation in the European Union. We support the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and do not wish to see its limitation in the European Union through a harmonisation process geared towards a "lowest common denominator" within the Union. We are concerned at the move away from a European system, which protects asylum seekers towards one determined to close borders against the needs of those suffering persecution.
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