A Shameful Disrespect for Human Rights

Posted by Rachel Robinson on 06 April 2016

Yesterday European authorities accepted that the refugee crisis has shown serious weaknesses in Europe’s asylum system. The Dublin system, which leaves border countries like Greece to take the lion’s share of responsibility for the refugees seeking sanctuary in Europe, has contributed dramatically to the human suffering played out across the continent.

Individuals fleeing violence and persecution in the most troubled and dangerous countries in the world are facing fresh inhumanity as borders close and forced returns to Turkey get underway. Britain’s response to this unfolding tragedy continues to demonstrate a shameful disrespect for human rights and a depressing lack of international solidarity.

As the European Commission looks to ways of creating a sustainable system for the future, No. 10 cynically brags that Britain will play no part in reforms or shared resettlement programs and instead seeks powers to enforce returns from UK waters.

As our Government plunges to new lows of British irresponsibility on the world stage, research published by the Refugee Rights Data Project this week highlights the violence and unsanitary conditions facing those stranded on our doorstep in the Calais Jungle.

Researchers interviewed 870 individuals living in the camp - some 15% of the overall population  - and found that 73% don’t have enough water to wash and shower, 84% describe the camp as containing many rats and vermin and 77% report health problems since their arrival.  76% of those interviewed had experienced police violence, including beatings and the use of teargas and rubber bullets. Almost 50% had experienced violence by local people during their time in Calais. Camp residents reported being attacked with sticks or having objects thrown at them from passing cars and women reported experiencing sexual violence.  

Charities estimate that there are over 650 children residing in the camp, some as young as 12. Three quarters of the children interviewed by researchers did not have their own bed and a similar number said they did not get enough to eat.

And yet over 44%  of these children have family members in the UK ready to care for them. Many of them may well be entitled to have their asylum claims processed in the UK. But the Government has failed to offer even the smallest of concessions to humanity for the refugees – including many children – facing such appalling conditions.

In March the House of Lords voted for the UK to accept 3,000 unaccompanied asylum seeking children already in Europe. The issue could come before the Commons as soon as next week, but Ministers are showing no signs of softening.

The Prime Minister may want to wear his bullish refusal to co-operate with neighbouring countries as a badge of honour, but he cannot dismiss Parliament so easily. Liberty will continue to call for this country to play its part in upholding the human rights of refugees and to make the promise of protection enshrined in the Refugee Convention a reality by providing safe and legal routes to the UK. 

Rachel Robinson

Rachel Robinson

Policy and Advocacy Manager