Refugees and Human Rights

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:11 pm on 24th January 2018.

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Photo of Thelma Walker Thelma Walker Labour, Colne Valley 4:11 pm, 24th January 2018

As Nelson Mandela said while addressing the US Congress on 29 June 1990,

“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”

Today, as we debate refugees’ human rights, we must remember his words. Refugees’ rights are human rights—it is as plain and simple as that. We as a country have a proud history of standing up to dictators and those who wish to take those rights away from individuals. Today, we have a duty to stand up for the rights of refugees too. No one should face being trafficked to a strange country. No one’s family should be ripped apart by war. No one should profit from human suffering and hurt.

We see the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Palestine—and it also affects the stateless Rohingya Muslims. We see the bodies washed up on the beaches. Those people face devastating human rights violations. We say that human rights are refugees’ rights. As a country, we must take the lead. We must make sure that we use our place in the world to make the voices of the vulnerable heard: their rights should be defended. Protecting the rights of people who seek asylum in the UK allows them to participate fully and to flourish.

I would like to commend the work of Sanctuary Kirklees and Destitute Asylum Seekers Huddersfield, known as DASH, for the work that they do in Kirklees to support asylum seekers and refugees. I offer a warm welcome to the newest members of our community, who settled in Kirklees after their arrival from Syria last week as part of the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme.

For the next minute or so, I want to talk about the Buzz Project in Marsden in my constituency of Colne Valley. It is a great example of how we can support people who are fleeing persecution. It was set up by Dr Ryad Alsous, a world-renowned bee-keeping expert and former professor of agriculture at Damascus University. Ryad came to Britain as a refugee, escaping from Damascus in 2012. With help from Kirklees Council, Sanctuary Kirklees and the Canal and River Trust, he set up a bee-keeping project. The aim of the Buzz Project is to help local refugees and job seekers to find a place and purpose in the community by keeping bees.

When I met Ryad at the opening of the Buzz Project in my constituency of Colne Valley, he spoke about how those 10 wooden hives represented hope for the future and proof that second chances sometimes come in the unlikeliest places. Ryad’s words on this subject are far more powerful than mine can ever be:

“I know how hard it can be when you are displaced. You carry with you an emotional tension, and the experiences and memories of what went before can make you feel isolated.”

A number of Members have contributed to the debate, and more wish to do so, so I will finish quickly. Let us remember the words of Nelson Mandela in 1990:

“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”

We need to stand up for refugees’ human rights, but we also need to give them a second chance in life, just like Ryad is doing with the Buzz Project.