Remembering the Refugees

We say goodbye to 2016 which has been the year of war and more war in the Middle East, and in the West the arrival of Brexit and Donald Trump have heralded a new era of antiestablishmentarianism that some have found disconcerting.

2016 has also been the Year of the Refugee. What follows is a statement signed by some of the participants in the conference on Migration and its Genesis hosted by Initiatives of Change and the Next Century Foundation during World Refugee Week 2016. Please take a look at it. We think you may find it of value.refugee-picture-531 December 2016: The following statement is signed by some of the participants in the conference on Migration, its Genesis and Causes hosted by Initiatives of Change and the Next Century Foundation during World Refugee Week 2016. We believe it represents a consensus view of participants:

Action to support Refugees in recently established camps in the Middle East:

  • An effort should be made to recruit and employ teachers, doctors and nurses or others appropriately qualified who are themselves refugees within the camps wherever possible, and government aid funds should be diverted to this purpose, in preference to bringing in Western teachers, doctors and nurses and others to perform these roles. This both lifts morale and provides economic support to key refugees.
  • That greater emphasis be given to delivering education in refugee camps.

General Action by the international community to ameliorate the refugee crisis:

  • That international governments consult local people regarding actions that affect their wellbeing before taking those actions. And that where possible, most particularly in war torn nations, the international community empower local communities to take control of their own destiny, e.g. by giving them a voice in regard to the dispersal of international aid.
  • We support an expansion of the definition of refugee under international law to incorporate those displaced by environmental disasters, in particular those human-caused. Whilst the current definition of refugee encompasses the persecuted (as well as by de facto practice those displaced by war), a new legal framework is needed to also address the needs of communities affected by climate change where that climate change is life threatening as in cases of famine as a result of severe desertification or in cases of population displacement because of rising sea levels.

Recommendations specific to the United Kingdom:

  • That asylum seekers be permitted to work in the United Kingdom whilst seeking asylum, should they wish to do so.
  • That the concept of “temporary protection” including permission to work and / or study in the United Kingdom for a limited period be further extended beyond the current Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme.
  • That the concept of “humanitarian passports” and of registration for asylum within the region be developed further. The Lawyers’ Refugee Initiative advocates the extensive use of humanitarian visas – that is to say visas for the specific purpose of seeking asylum on arrival – issued in the country of departure or intended embarkation.
  • In order to speed up the processing of asylum applications and reduce legal costs and emotional strain for all involved, we recommend that the Home Office only appeal decisions in exceptional circumstances, and rarely if the case has been under consideration for more than five years. It should perhaps be a statutory duty that all Home Office appeals must take place within one year and be grounded on strict criteria. The actual asylum application process should have inspectors who ensure that decisions are made on independent criteria that are generous to genuine refugee claims with a mechanism for withdrawing status for five years on conviction of a crime or proven false information – and fast track citizenship after five years.

Recommendations to the international community of relevance to specific nations in the Arab World:

  • IRAQ: That a special task force be appointed to provide aid and support to IDPs (internally displaced persons) in and from Ninevah, Anbar and Salah ad Din Provinces so that the community in Northern and Western Iraq feel a sense of hope and encouragement.
  • LIBYA: The return of the Ambassadors of the United Kingdom, Italy and France to Libya to support the new internationally recognised government of Libya.

That the international community agree to the request from the new internationally recognised government of Libya for help with land mine clearance – or at the very least technical support and training for land mine clearance.

  • SYRIA: That a ‘track two’ conference be convened which participants would attend without precondition and that would welcome members of the government, key international players and those from any faction of the opposition.

Action to reduce levels of extremism:

  • That the communities in refugee receiving countries be encouraged by faith leaders to welcome to their homes people new to the area of other faiths or cultures  with no agenda other than that of befriending them and offering a listening ear. The West needs to rediscover the dynamic of its own rich spiritual tradition.  At best this has been the engine of social advance, just governance and effective peacemaking for our countries.  Too often as a civilisation we project an image of material self-seeking, and miss the active comradeship we could enjoy with believers from other traditions.
  • All nations of the world face a moral and spiritual challenge. This problem is not unique to the Arab World. The vast majority of Muslims do not follow extreme ideologies. That said a disaffected minority have adopted the apocalyptic ideology promoted by ISIS. Alternative expressions of faith exist that engender a sense of belonging. One such ideology is that known in the Middle East as al-tasalluh al-akhlaqi or الأخلاقي التسلح, based on the same principles as Initiatives of Change – absolute love, honesty, unselfishness, and purity and the practice of listening for God’s guidance. “Sufi” doctrines of this kind should be considered in the search for ideological responses to violent extremism. As an example of this alternative approach see https://www.facebook.com/khawatirmovement/

We also commend the international community to regard refugees, whatever their circumstance, with compassion and mercy. It is our duty to our fellow men and women to treat those in distress with compassion. Compassion is love in action. Although we are not legally obliged to accept refugees, we do have a moral duty to significantly help ameliorate their situation so that they can take temporary refuge in countries neighbouring their own. That duty is a duty to humanity that transcends any obligation we may have to accept economic migrants and / or the free movement of labour and should not be confused with any such obligation – and we are not yet doing enough.

Endorsed and signed by the following members and friends of Initiatives of Change and The Next Century Foundation

Amit Mukherjee, Initiatives of Change India

Chris Evans, Initiatives of Change UK

Dan Parry, Filmmaker

Dr Peter Shambrook, Historian

George Butler, War artist

John Bond, Initiatives of Change UK

Professor Dawn Chatty, The Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford

Reverend Larry Wright, The Religious Affairs Advisory Council

Sabiha Malik, Founder, Sanghata Global

Siwar al Assad, The Aramea Foundation

Suleiman Fortia, Former Member of the National Transitional Council, Libya

The Lord Stone of Blackheath

William Morris, Secretary General, The Next Century Foundation