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Understanding the Refugee Crisis – How can we respond?

On Wednesday, 25th November, Karl Pike addressed Guildford CLP on the refugee crisis. Karl was an advisor to David Miliband and Yvette Cooper. He is a research student at University of London and works on refugee and asylum policy for the British Red Cross.

Karl was speaking in a personal capacity.

Given the seemingly unending refugee crisis and the seeming failure of governments to compose coherent strategies to deal with it, this was a timely and humbling talk, outlining the problems facing refugees.

Karl outlined the current crisis, and how there is a trail which can be traced from Syria to Turkey to Europe, each stage of the trail having its own problems and challenges. However, this trail is not the only route followed by refugees from Syria. Lebanon -a country smaller than Wales- has received two million refugees. This is now approximately 20% of the population.

Karl spoke very movingly of refugee stories.

He spoke of Lebanon, where in the basement of an unfinished building there were around 30 adults and 50 children living a virtually subterranean existence.

For most there is a despair that they will never go home. Their lives have been decimated: homes are destroyed, families are split up and the future is uncertain. While Lebanon opened its schools to refugees the infrastructure cannot cope with the numbers and many children now receive no education.

Adults have no papers & are in debt-they need money for food and necessities-and any children born outside Syria are stateless.

In Lebanon the political situation is unstable- there is concern about ISIL incursions and so, unsurprisingly, most refugees wish to come to Europe to provide a safer and more secure future for their children.

For the majority the only way into Europe is an illegal one. As Karl stressed it is the policies of European governments which force desperate people to follow this route. There is no legal route. Even if asylum or refugee status is granted the hardships do not end.

Karl spoke of an Iraqi Kurd who has been in the UK for five years: his application for asylum was denied. However although the UK does not return people to Iraq because it is a dangerous place, he has no place here. As a result this man cannot work, is homeless and cannot access any support. He is 'non-returnable' in official terms. The British Red Cross is allowed to provide only a blanket, a jumper and £10. This man has skills which he could use and we could benefit from but is not allowed to use them.

Another man paid a smuggler to come on a truck through the tunnel. As they boarded, the driver heard a noise, closed the truck and the man's child was left behind. Father and son were separated. The man's only hope was to access the Red Cross tracing service to find his son.

Karl also spoke of the problems facing women who have been trafficked, particularly from Albania, raped en route. The Home Office does not recognise these women or women's children as refugees because Albania is not at war and their children are not recognised because the women cannot name the father. The women face the choice to remain-destitute- in the UK or return to Albania, to the people who trafficked them originally.

The UNHCR 1951 convention on the status of refugees says that refugees have a right to protection.  But how can this be achieved?

Commitment and intent by governments is key: commitment to take a proportionate share of refugees and the intent to provide for them.

Unless there is this commitment and intent then we will never have the infrastructure required to cope with increased populations.

Most refugees would wish to return home, but how realistic is it for people to return to Syria? Therefore, Europe must accept this is a long term resettlement.

Under the UK government's resettlement programme, people coming from Syria are NOT given refugee status, but Humanitarian Reception Status which, unlike refugee status, expires.

While the UK government proposes to take 20,000 refugees over five years, it is estimated one million will leave Syria in the next year. If air strikes on Syria continue, and are escalated, this number will increase.

For many, the Red Cross will provide invaluable assistance. There are Red Cross schools in camps, they work in Syria, Lebanon and Eritrea among others, and they can be called on by governments in times of crisis-for example, following the terrorist attacks in Paris.

As Labour Party members we should make the argument for our government to show commitment and intent. We should explain why we need to support our fellow human beings.

This year, there will be 59 million displaced persons in the world. If you were one and had seen your home destroyed, your family killed and had to flee for your life, wouldn't you want someone to help?


The meeting voted unanimously to support the Red Cross and refugees, with many ongoing events. In the first instance all party members and members of the public are asked to act.

Labour members agreed to email Guildford’s MP – Anne Milton in order to support the Red Cross amendment to the Immigration Bill to be debated on Dec 1st

The amendment would widen access to Refugee Family Reunion, so that families traumatised in fleeing from conflict could have the chance to rebuild their lives all together. 

To enable supporters to do this do this, the Red Cross have provided a template letter to MPs. We hope you can find the time to support this action.

To find the template click here

To find the page to email Anne Milton click here

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