Commission chair: Refugee debate is run by ‘controversialists’

A widely respected former MP who is chairing a public commission on the integration of refugees yesterday hit out at the “highly contentious” nature of the current national debate about refugees and asylum seekers, saying it was being “led by controversialists looking for disagreement”.

‘Disappointing’: Lord Alex Carlile, the Commission’s chair

Lord Alex Carlile is the chair of the Commission on the Integration of Refugees, which yesterday held its second session, staged at the LSBU campus in central Croydon.

Lord Carlile, an eminent lawyer, comes from a family that escaped Nazi persecution. “I was brought up to believe that the UK is a place where justice is done for people wherever they come from,” he said.

“But the current system is not working. It’s not working for refugees and asylum seekers, and it’s not working for society.

“The current way these issues are debated is disappointing. It is highly contentious, extremely opinionated and largely led by controversialists looking for disagreement.”

Carlile said that he and the two dozen members of the Commission will be working to address such divisiveness.

Yesterday, they heard evidence from contributors from across London, including many with lived experience of the asylum system and being a refugee. The speakers included Sarah Jones, MP for Croydon Central, where the Home Office’s immigration centre is based at Lunar House.

Trust and understanding: Andy Brittain, right, spoke of the police’s work with refugees, including Adam Yasir from the Croydon refugee forum. Pic: Patrick Unsby

Chief Superintendent Andy Brittain, of Croydon police, also gave evidence at the hearing.

“What we have found is an understandable lack of trust in the police from these communities,” he said.

“Asylum seekers and refugees are coming from war-torn countries with no policing system or where they have been subject to human rights abuses from the police. This lack of trust means they don’t report it when they’re the victims of crime. And this makes it difficult for us to protect them as we don’t know what they’re experiencing.

“We have now been working with Croydon Voluntary Action to form better links with refugee communities in the borough. We have people who are refugees coming to talk to new police recruits and tell them about their experiences.

“There are lots of groups in Croydon that we don’t know about yet and are not interacting with so it’s important that this work to build links continues if we are to ensure crime is reported and we can protect these communities.”

Among the refugees giving evidence was Mariam Tahir, a 31-year-old mother of three who sought asylum from Chad. “If you are an asylum seeker, there are many barriers you face. You are so isolated, how can you possibly focus on anything else, or have healthy social relationships which are good for your mental health and well-being?

Centre of debate: MP Sarah Jones (centre) at yesterday’s Commission hearing

“It is very hard to become a successful business without childcare or access to expert advice. Particularly for us women: we study, we run businesses and we look after the whole family at the same time. We are already superwomen. We are each other’s role models. We just need that support.”

In expressing his disappointment at the level of the current national debate, Lord Carlile said, “My parents and sister were refugees, having survived Nazi persecution in Poland.

“Our hope is that by bringing together 24 reasonable people of appropriate experience to hear different perspectives from across the country, a solid and enduring set of solutions can be found.

“We intend to produce a programme that easily can be translated into lasting policy and better law.

The Commission is convened and funded by the Woolf Institute and will run until the end of 2023. It will hold seven hearings across the country. Croydon was the second.

As well as taking evidence at hearings, the commission has invited the public and experts to submit written evidence. Click here for more.

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3 Responses to Commission chair: Refugee debate is run by ‘controversialists’

  1. Ben Hart says:

    Pleased to see there are some grown-up discussions around this topic being held.

    • He’s right – at least partly. Just look at the spectacle of the ‘controversialists’ from both side of the spectrum shouting at each other outside hotels where migrants are housed… The ‘unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable’ as Ken Lee may have written

      • Ben says:

        I was being sincere in my comment, and I agree it’s a nuanced and complicated issue which won’t be fixed on the front page of the Daily Express.

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