Following on from the Home Secretary’s announcement about changes to the asylum system in parliament last week, the IMIX communications team explain how to create empathy, win over hearts and minds, appeal to our better selves and crucially make connections – when there are others who would seek to divide us.
Last week, Priti Patel announced the details of the so-called Fair Borders Bill. The government claim this bill will be the biggest overhaul to Britain’s asylum and refugee system ever. There is an emphasis on ‘illegal verses legal’, on sending people back to ‘safe countries’ or ‘offshoring’ and a promise to crack down on ‘people smugglers’.
The bill has been widely criticised by humanitarians from far and wide, the media, faith leaders, opposition leaders, MPs from all parties. It’s an attack; a wrecking ball to the right to claim asylum.
These are heady times. In order to counter the damaging effects of this bill our sector will need to be robust in its arguments, offer clear alternatives, and above all promote the human values we all believe in. Compassion, fairness, equity, kindness, empathy. And community.
We also know the British public are proud of our country’s history in providing sanctuary and safety to some of the most vulnerable people in the world. That most people welcome refugees.
We need to build on this support- telling the story of what it really means to be a refugee, fleeing your home not through choice but through necessity. There’s been some brilliant examples of this with refugees sharing their stories in their own words, both on our own Human Journeys platform and in the wider press, such as this powerful piece written by a Muste, a former unaccompanied child refugee in Huff Post.
But more needs to be done.
Tell human stories
It’s vital to build empathy and make connections. Refugees are brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, neighbours. We have great examples to give, great stories to tell. Where possible people who have sought asylum need a platform speak, to raise the issues and challenge what needs to change. We need to inspire, to galvanise and resist this bill: we need stories of hope, courage, kindness and sanctuary. But above all, of humanity.
Talk about safe and legal routes
We need to keep stressing the need for safe and legal routes. We need to explain what we mean by that, and offer a clear alternative vision.
We need to stress that asylum is a legal right distinct from however you manage to arrive here. That people crossing the Channel is a symptom of a broken asylum system, not the other way round. That those who seek asylum want to travel to the UK specifically because they share the language or have family here already.
Tell us why people have fled
Arm yourself with humanity, morality and compassion. Talk about the reality of war and persecution – tell us what people are fleeing and why they came to the UK. Have examples from the countries left behind. Most people here in the UK know nothing or very little about the realities of living in southern Sudan or Afghanistan, or what it is like to be Kurdish in Iran.
Tell us about stories of community and belonging
Use stories of resettlement, community, neighbourhood support and faith groups. What it means to hold out a hand to another human being. Tell us what it means to forge new friendships. Tell us what it feels like to be safe again, to rebuild lives, to find a new home, a sense of belonging. Tell those stories of community members helping refugees and refugees helping out their new communities. Of people coming together through music, the arts, helping out at foodbanks and volunteering. Post pandemic – this is fertile ground.
Tell us about the struggles overcome
If you have examples of where people’s asylum has been rejected and years later overturned, use them. These are stories of overcoming drama, adversary and ultimately, triumph.
Make people think…
About the consequences of this bill, what’s really at stake and encourage people to think beyond the rhetoric and ask questions.
The government have sent people back to war zones, persecution and in some cases death. Their ability to judge whether someone is safe to return or not to their home country is deeply flawed. In particular, the government’s track record on subjects such as LGBTQI+ is poor and these stories should be highlighted where they can be.
A word on smugglers
When it comes to the government’s rhetoric on people smugglers and its emphasis on criminality, remember people smugglers are a cause for concern – but they are a symptom of a failed asylum system not the cause. Routes into this country will just go further underground if there are not enough safe routes and access to asylum and safety here in Britain.
Share our vision of hope
Britain is a welcoming country. Our communities are rightly proud of our history in welcoming refugees. Past and present. Most people in Britain share deep-rooted values with those who seek sanctuary here – of kindness, caring, community and compassion. We urge you to share that vision. Now more than ever before.