07 Jun 17 29 Jun 17

MSF UK director to UK Prime Minister: “Do not undermine Refugee Convention”

Dear Prime Minister,

I am writing in regards to the pledge in your party’s election manifesto to “…work with other countries in Europe, and the United Nations, to review the international legal definitions of asylum and refugee status.” 

Our organisation, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), provides medical assistance to hundreds of thousands of individuals who have fled conflict or persecution, in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, South Sudan, Nigeria and beyond.

Trapped in acute vulnerability and stripped of all choices, these people need the protection currently provided under domestic and international agreements to survive – in particular, the 1951 Refugee Convention.

"In our view, a renegotiation of the Convention, and the legal definitions contained within it, comes with a very high risk of dealing the international protection regime a fatal blow from which it will never recover."
vickie hawkinsexecutive director, msf uk

Earlier this year you recognised the history of the first half of the last century as “tragic”. Sharing your strong belief in a “rules-based global order”, you underscored the need to “uphold the institutions” established as a consequence. 

The 1951 Convention is a crucial pillar of the rules-based global order you refer to, and we would therefore urge you to ensure it is upheld and implemented in full – rather than taking steps which could weaken or undermine it.

In our view, a renegotiation of the Convention, and the legal definitions contained within it, comes with a very high risk of dealing the international protection regime a fatal blow from which it will never recover.  

As well as safeguarding and implementing the Refugee Convention, the British Government’s leadership is needed in relation to other protection regimes, which desperately need implementation for the sake of people on the move.

I’ve recently returned from Tripoli where I saw first-hand the human consequences of detention as a tool of migration control.

We call on you to lead on a humane and effective governance for migration including that of refugee movement, as opposed to further exposing already vulnerable people to abuse and violence through state policies focused on deterrent and containment.
Vickie Hawkinsexecutive director, msf uk

As MSF, we share your concern for the issue of modern day slavery. However, this vile trade cannot be stopped through criminalisation, intelligence and prosecution alone; the factors that push people into the hands of the slave drivers must also be addressed.

They will also not be addressed through ever increasing restrictions on the ability of people to move – and such will be the inevitable impact of redefining the term refugee.         

The Director General of the International Organisation of Migration recently stated “migration is not an issue to be solved, it's a human reality that has to be managed or governed”.

We call on you to lead on a humane and effective governance for migration including that of refugee movement, as opposed to further exposing already vulnerable people to abuse and violence through state policies focused on deterrent and containment.

Beyond sharing our concerns, I have some specific questions on your manifesto -  to which I would be grateful for a response.

1. What practical steps does the Government intend to take to “offer asylum and refuge to people in parts of the world affected by conflict and oppression”?  How will the UK play its part in doing more to ensure safe and legal channels exist to allow people to seek refuge here?  

2. Do you intend to call for concrete changes to the international refugee protection regime? If so what do you specifically wish to change?

3. How would any change to the existing refugee protection regime dovetail with your Government’s important efforts to combat modern slavery and human trafficking? 

I would of course be very happy to meet with you or any of your colleagues to discuss MSF’s work on these issues and the points I have raised above.  

I look forward to hearing from you,

Yours sincerely,

Vickie Hawkins
Executive Director, MSF UK