Features / Bristol

Students must help refugees in crisis

By scarlett sherriff, Thursday Feb 25, 2016

Scarlett Sherriff describes the ordeal asylum seekers have to go through to enter the UK and argues that Bristol students can do more to help.

In the media we hear about people – men, women, children and babies – drowning as they make the perilous journey from Turkey to the Greek islands to escape the war in Syria.

We hear how hundreds die from suffocation, attempting in desperation to find a better life in the back of greedy, twisted, money-grabbing drivers’ lorries.

As students it is difficult to know what we can do to help, but that does not make the need any less urgent. 

Going to a talk called Perspectives on the Refugee Crisis, held in the Anson Rooms recently, reminded me that we cannot close our eyes to the plight of our fellow human beings.

A speaker from Bristol Refugee Right, described how arduous and discriminatory the system for seeking asylum is in this country.

Refugees are interrogated intensely in both a short and a long interview about horrendous events, with unnecessarily challenging questions about where they came from, including dates from history.

The whole process is antagonistic and its effectiveness is very questionable. Not only could relaying events that were so dire they made you flee your home country cause unimaginably terrifying flashbacks, the memories of people with post-traumatic stress disorder have been scientifically proven to be patchy and hard to recall. 

This seems like common sense. Of course your memory is going to be impaired by trauma. It didn’t take a qualified GP, who was there as part of an organisation called The Haven, a practice especially for asylum seekers and refugees in Bristol, to highlight this point. 

You don’t have to be at all intelligent to realise that the methods used are specifically in place to make it more difficult for asylum seekers to enter the UK.

I would struggle to recall details from the history of Britain, when I am in a calm, familiar environment, let alone if I was somewhere completely unknown, fearing deportation to a place where I have been persecuted.

It doesn’t take a lot of effort to see that this is clearly an unjustified and biased system. One that assists the government’s agenda to reduce migration to this country by using bullying tactics to exclude those who we should be most willing to welcome.

In fact, the whole process for refugees seeking asylum in Great Britain is contrary to any notion of fairness. You receive only £36.60 a week on which to live, an isolating level of poverty in a country where you hoped you would be welcomed.

Moreover, the letter that asylum seekers receive reads: “You could be detained at any moment.” This being without the need for a proper judge to make the decision.

Surely locking someone up, curtailing their freedom without proper legal backing is a violation of human rights? 

Indeed, according to Article 6 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law”, and according to Article 7, “all are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection against any incitement to such discrimination”.

It would seem that detaining someone for days on end, without the decision of a judge, is certainly contrary to human rights law. Even if a clever lawyer could argue that it is not actively discriminatory because it is a clause in British law, it is certainly “incitement to such discrimination”.

We all therefore need to be writing letters to our local MPs and campaigning against this. More importantly, one thing which is not time-consuming, does not involve travelling and is free that we students can do is to sign petitions.

We need to express our solidarity and continue to raise awareness about the troubles faced by fellow human beings. We can help put a stop to the unnecessary and discriminatory measures forced upon asylum seekers by taking 30 seconds to fill out petitions such as those on 38 degrees and refugee-action.org. And we need to do it now.

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