What Brexit means for refugees

The anti-immigrant sentiments stoked by the Leave campaign could seriously threaten our politicians’ already wavering commitment to the protection of refugees as the Brexit victory has seen a worrying level of hate crime and racism in its wake.

Many of us have been shocked and saddened to see the increase in hate crime following the Brexit vote in June. The surge in anti-immigrant hate crimes seen after the EU referendum was particularly intense in areas of the country that strongly voted Leave, an investigation by The Independent has found. Police statistics show hate crimes to have as much as tripled in some of the most Eurosceptic parts of Britain.

Last year, Theresa May unveiled proposals to undermine the rights of refugees who arrive through the asylum system in this country by creating a “two tier system” which caricatures refugees who have travelled independently to the UK as less deserving than those brought here through a resettlement scheme. She had also previously spoken of scrapping the European Convention on Human Rights in 2013, in order to curb the appeal rights of those facing deportation or seeking asylum in the UK.

Rainbow Haven ChoirA year on and our former Home Secretary is now of course our Prime Minister and increasing pressure to be tough on immigration could see ever more restrictive asylum policies.

Despite these concerns, we must remember that the UK’s principal obligations to protect refugees originate at a much higher level, from international treaties – namely the UN Refugee Convention and the UN Convention Against Torture – which are unaffected by our membership of the EU. Nevertheless, EU law has been built up to supplement these treaties and Brexit would almost certainly remove the UK from the ambit of these detailed rules.

Meanwhile, French President François Hollande has rejected other politicians’ calls to suspend Le Touquet treaty at Calais, a border deal preventing migrants from entering the United Kingdom via the Channel Tunnel. He has declared that Britain’s Brexit vote should not change the France-UK deal by which Britain’s border controls were moved to the northern shores of France, where migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia have massed in their thousands. This has led to many being stuck in huge migrant camps in Calais, such as the infamous ‘Jungle’, and Grande-Synthe in Dunkirk. However, with elections in France being held next year, it’s likely to continue to be a point of pressure with calls for Frexit from the Far Right of the country.

The fate of the Dublin Regulation, designed to determine the member state responsible for an asylum claim, will likely be a focus of negotiation as the government will want a means of stopping asylum seekers who have travelled across mainland Europe from reaching the UK. Nevertheless, Member states are also unlikely to agree to returns from the UK in the wake of the referendum. Either way, the rolling back of rights for asylum seekers is feared.

160623_refugee_week_webNow we must look for all political parties to debate about immigration honestly and humanely and pledge to protect those fleeing war, torture and armed conflict, with an emphasis on upholding our international obligations to refugees and improving the asylum process alongside integration. We believe a refugee’s suffering should end once they are in the UK.

What should I do if I witness a Hate Crime? Find out here.