I was privileged to be invited to speak on behalf of Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary at the event organised by the Banyamulenge Community Association (BACA) to commemorate the 12th Anniversary of the Gatumba Massacre.Gatumba massacre choir slogan

Gatumba massacre choirIt was a very moving event, listening to speakers who were survivors of the massacre, or very involved in different ways. The choir sang beautifully about the sadness, with their T shirts proclaiming “Banyamulenge at risk without justice and protection

The film shown of the massacre was horrifying and tragic. 166 innocent Banyamulenge Congolese were mercilessly slaughtered, some burned alive, and hundreds of others seriously injured. Not only are physical scars still there, but it was clear from the reaction to the film that the devastating mental effect was still with many. We see on our screens every day the horrors of what is happening in places such as Syria, but whilst the atrocities in Gatumba are on a lesser scale, they are not known about or talked about at all.

The film showed the President of Burundi going to the scene of the crime, and he said something would be done, but 12 years on, nothing has happened to bring the killers to justice. Awareness has been raised in all of the EU, the USA and other parts of the world. All say “something must be done”, but nothing ever is.

Gatumba massacre Holocaust speaker_edited-1A speaker from the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, Rosie Crook, told us about Genocide beginning with people being seen as “different”. She told us how massacres never just happen, they are organised in advance and are always officially denied.  We say ‘never again’ but they do happen again”. As she said, we are there to tackle prejudice and hatred, and that must continue.


Church Ministers spoke strongly with messages to give strength and hope from Psalm 137 and Revelation 21.

The very clear message that came over again and again is that justice is so important.  Justice not been brought and the murderers are still free and continuing to commit atrocities.  Survivors are still raw with grief and enormous sadness in their lives.

Surely it is not too great to ask for there to be justice, just as it is for any criminal act against innocent people. Gatumba massacre Innocent_edited-1

Innocent Ntezidyayo told us how evidence is now being gathered so that advice from such as lawyers can be taken on the best way forward for justice to be done. There is hope that the subject will be raised in the UK Parliament, and I said I would do my best to take that forward.

Gatumba massacre Nzayi_edited-1Nzayi Dieudonne, a survivor of the massacre, emphasised that the commemoration event should be not like Christmas where we just come together on one day, but there is the need now need to make progress and take action with evidence.  “We seek justice together”.


Gatumba massacre SFFor my part I said that if only more people could see the film, they would understand why people fled from terror to seek sanctuary elsewhere, and be more welcoming. I spoke of the ways that LD4SOS is campaigning to make matters bettor for asylum seekers in the UK. The need for better treatment and understanding by the Home Office; the importance of ending indefinite detention; the need for the end to destitution and the right to work; the need for better contracts for housing and enforcement functions. The need to keep the Human Rights Act. Overall British Foreign and International Development policy should support the development of a peaceful world.

 Being able to live in peace in the UK, will not only begin to help to heal the scars, but give some stability for being able to support their fellow country people in their quest for justice.

 Most of all, we need to give hope, and give our support for justice to be done.


The plight of refugee children goes ignored. A personal insight from Baroness Shas Sheehan

Calais with Bradley and SamThe slip road off the motorway brings you straight into the Jungle camp in Calais. Today I was met with a cloud of pungent blue, orifice attacking, smoke. I moved away, blindly hunting a clean tissue for myself and my travelling companions from Social Work First.

Once we were able, we wondered what had triggered such an aggressive attack from the CRS, the French riot police. The group of youths at the centre of the tear-gas attack seemed calm and passive still, even after the attack. There was no noise from them, either before or after the release of the gas. Why had they been targeted?

This is a question that receives a shrug of the shoulders. Who knows? It happens often enough. Sometimes, the gas is sprayed inches from the face, causing burns.

This level of unnecessary brutality is perhaps one reason it has been an uphill struggle to persuade people of the Jungle camp in Calais to seek asylum in France. Brutality is a reality for the residents of the Jungle, whether it be CRS administered brutality, or the passive brutality of indifference to their plight by the governments of France and the UK.

Calais ShasThat the camp is a brutish environment cannot be hidden. In daylight, the residents conform to the civilities of the volunteers without whom they would be utterly destitute and whom they cannot thank enough. But at night, the camp is a different place. Nightly they walk miles to try their luck to make it to the UK, stoically accepting the methods of the CRS to deter them – razorwire, teargas, truncheons and dogs. By day their injuries are patched up by MSF (Medecins Sans Frontieres) and other volunteers.

During my stay there last week two people died. In the course of a night’s violence an Ethiopian was killed; another person died on the motorway – not the first to meet such a fate. There are those who say that fatalities on the motorway are caused by smugglers as it takes the authorities quite a while to clean up, giving them more time to get people into the stopped lorries. Who keeps a record of the fatalities? Who informs the relatives? Do the French government even know who is on their soil?

The number of unaccompanied children in the camp is almost impossible to gauge without a central registration point, but it is certainly more than the 157 last estimated by Citizens UK. The French government neglects its duty to safeguard children, whilst the UK government remains dilatory in its response to those seeking to be reunified with family in the UK.

This inaction was successfully challenged in January this year by a case brought to the Upper Tribunal by Citizens UK, Bhatt Murphy Solicitors and Doughty Street Chambers, which ruled that three children and a dependant adult should be immediately brought to the UK to rejoin family members already legally living here.

Their reasoning was that as the group had fulfilled the necessary paperwork and had already been in limbo for nine months waiting for the French authorities to issue a “take charge” notice to the Home Office, it was incumbent on the British Government to act and immediately bring the group to be reunited with their British family.

To its shame the British government lodged an immediate appeal against this decision – and this week the Court of Appeal overturned the ruling of the Upper Tribunal.

Although it is understood that the group at the centre of the case will be allowed to remain in Britain, the impact on those that remain in the camp and who are trapped by similar dysfunctional bureaucracy is cruel.

Not only that but how does the government reconcile its petty pursuance of this case with its subsequent obligations under the Immigration Act 2016, which commit it to allow unaccompanied asylum seeking children already in the EU to come to Britain – following the example of the Kindertransport scheme which brought 10,000 Jewish children to Britain to escape Hitler? Does the right hand know what the left is doing?

I hope this waste of tax-payers’ money to make a self-defeating point is a consequence of passing the baton from one government to another. Unless of course the government has no intention of meeting own target of bringing 20,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees and 3,000 unaccompanied children from camps in the region to Britain by 2020, nor of meeting its obligations under the Dubs’ amendment in the Immigration Act 2016 to give shelter to unaccompanied children already in the EU? Its record to date would suggest so.

There is very real fear amongst volunteer groups that, if the French go ahead with rumoured demolitions this autumn, increased numbers of very vulnerable children will be delivered into the hands of merciless traffickers. Memories surface of the last demolition in February, which left people traumatised – and almost 200 children missing.

Urgent action is needed by French and British governments to take seriously their obligations under international and national law to safeguard children – this must start by official representation in the camp to register existing residents and daily arrivals, and to put in place processes to assess each individual case. Surely it is a moral imperative to behave with human decency towards people seeking our protection as they flee from hideous terrors at home, until such time as they can begin the journey back home again?

key_shas_sheehanHere are some facts behind the biggest movement of people we have seen since World War II. According to UNHCR, over 65 million people have been displaced worldwide, 86% of whom are living in developing countries, some in camps. Turkey is the biggest refugee hosting country with 2.5m Syrian refugees; Jordan hosts 600,000; Lebanon 1.2m. Pakistan hosts 1.6m Afghans. Many, many more are internally displaced, living in unimaginable conditions in their homeland.

By the end of 2015 the UK had resettled just 1062 vulnerable Syrian refugees.

Shas Sheehan is a Liberal Democrat Peer and a regular visitor to the Jungle camp in Calais.




Times have moved on.  Sadly little has improved and more problems have emerged for those seeking sanctuary in the UK.

So we have updated our Liberal Democrat for Seekers of Sanctuary manifesto to reflect this.  It is so important that we keep up hope that we can and will change things for the better, for the most vulnerable in ours society.

Hope is the least that we can give those who often live with no hope.





Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary (LD4SOS) are shocked and appalled at the Government statement today about the closure of Pre Departure Centre for families with children, Cedars, transferring them to detention centre, Tinsley House.

Chair of LD4SOS, Suzanne Fletcher, who has visited Cedars, and been part of an Independent Monitoring Board until the change of Government last year says “ Cedars provided an oasis with care and calm at a very traumatic time for those families with children who very sadly were being sent against their will back to their country of origin.  Children should never have to be behind the locked doors of a detention centre, and our Government should be ashamed of such a backward step.”

Alistair Carmichael MP, Liberal Democrat spokesman for Home Affairs said “Cedars was an expensive centre to run but that was the price of a civilised way of dealing with some of the most vulnerable young people in our care. 

Ending the detention of children in lock down institutions was something that the Liberal Democrats forced Theresa May to do against her will. Now there are no restraints on her she will indulge the more callous instincts  of her party. 

Having Tories in government is a bit like sharing your home with a cat. You may think that you have a domestic pet but the feral animal is never far beneath the surface. “


Dr Gemma Stockford, chair of Gatwick Detainees Visitor Group, and LD4SOS member says  “It is inhumane to incarcerate children and damages them in the long and short term. This is not the way to create harmony between nations and is totally unjustified on practicality or any other grounds. It shows that this government will treat anyone in any way in order to prove how tough they are.”

Cedars was opened to fulfil the pledge made by the coalition government, pushed by Sarah Teather and Nick Clegg, to end the detention of children for immigration purposes.  We were proud of this pledge, and there was a dramatic drop from 1,120 children being locked up in Yarlswood Detention Centre for an indefinite time, which ran into weeks and months. Cedars was not a detention centre, children could only be there for a maximum of 72 hours without the written permission of the Home Secretary, and the welfare of the children was in the care of Barnardos.

Parliament has now risen for the recess, the Minister having made this announcement on the last day, but we will be pursuing the Minister for action and answers on the following points.

  • The Family Returns process needs to be not only retained, as in the Government statement, but needs to be given more powers.  A number, which has never been released but suspected to be at least half, of the families that are taken to Cedars prior to removal are not actually removed but end up back in the community as a result of further appeals.  What is the Minster going to do to ensure that for families taken to Tinsley House, it really is the last resort ?
  • There is no mention in the Government statement about the 72 hour limit on the time that a family can be detained in Pre Departure Accommodation, unless there is the written agreement of the Home Secretary.  Will the Minister reiterate that this time limit will be used for any arrangement at Tinsley House ?
  • The withdrawal of the service by Barnardo’s is a backward move, and their valuable service, providing practical and emotional support to these vulnerable children must be continued to work with all the families in Tinsley House.  Will the Minster make contact with Barnardo’s and ask them to continue that work ?
  • The latest report of the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) on Tinsley House shows a lot of concern about the transport arrangements and how families are treated during transport to and from the centre.  Will the Minister ensure that immediate improvements are made before Tinsley House is used for those who would have used Cedars ?
  • Similarly there are concerns in the above IMB report on the too short time families are there between being transported there and being removed for a flight.  Will the Minister ensure that there is sufficient time for all families, whether Border Cases or those who have been here as asylum seekers, to rest between being taken to Tinsley House, and the airport ?
  • Families being taken from Cedars were accompanied by staff from Barnardos on the traumatic journey to the airport, will the Minister ensure that this continues?
  • The IMB report talks of essential upgrading of facilities at Tinsley House.  Progress on this must be closely monitored.  One of the reasons why the facilities at Cedars were so appropriate was because potential and past users of centres were involved in the design.  This could be done again.  Will the Minister ensure that all upgrading is completed before Cedars is closed, and take the views of families who have been or likely to use such facilities have their views taken into account ?
  • There is no mention in the Government statement about the work done at Cedars around preparation for return to the country of origin, especially for the children who have never been to that country or cannot remember it.  Nor is there any mention of medical support such as immunisations and issue of mosquito nets.  Will the Minister make sure that this work continues ?
  • If Cedars is not to be used any more consideration needs to be given to using the facilities there for vastly improving the way others are detained before departure.  Also consideration could be given to using it for an initial reception centre for unaccompanied children arriving in the UK before being taken to those who will care for them.  Will the Minister look at these suggestions for the future of Cedars ?
  • The facilities at Heathrow for families arriving there, and needing to return on the next flight are appalling and raised in every IMB report.  These children too must be treated better and steps must be taken for these to be upgraded too.  Will the Minister report on progress on improving these facilities ?

There is strong reaction from the voluntary sector on the closure, such as:

Detention Forum  http://detentionforum.org.uk/closure-of-cedars-pre-departure-accommodation-announced/  ;Refugee Council http://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/latest/news/4694_government_to_close_cedars_detention_unit and AVID has spoken out too.

Those who are probably the closest to the issue, Barnardo’s , response to the closure is http://www.barnardos.org.uk/news/Barnardos-statement-on-Cedars-accommodation/press_releases.htm?ref=117378

The full Government statement on the closure of Cedars is here. http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2016-07-21/HCWS114




Like all of you, Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary are shattered, upset and angry at events leading up to the Referendum and the actual result.

The former Home Secretary, who said she wanted the UK to have a “hostile environment”, a policy aimed at making life so awful for presumed “illegal immigrants” that they would leave the country voluntarily, is now our Prime Minister.

We know that many of those seeking asylum, refugees and others who have migrated to the UK in recent years, as well as long established people from the BME community, have felt or even been threatened. The language and whipping up of racism and hatred by some in the Leave campaign and some of the media has been a disgrace, and cause for our deep concern.

What makes everything worse is the victims of all this are in the worst position to speak out for themselves, particularly those waiting for asylum claims to be processed, those appealing, and those who are destitute and cannot return to their country of origin. 

So what are we going to do? As some have said we need to “re imagine the UK, how we are and our place in the world”.

It is important that we do not alienate and scapegoat those members of the public who voted “leave” because they were worried and misled about immigration. It does not mean that they are racist, but it does mean that we all have to up our game in getting better understanding of the issues.

It is important that we do not even think that our values and our priorities change. We stand up for, and continue to campaign for:

The UK being a fair and welcoming society that is tolerant.

More compassion and humanity in how we look after those who seek sanctuary in the UK, and deal with their claims for asylum. All must be treated with dignity and respect.

Protection for refugees and all who are making their home here.

Valuing the contribution made to society by those who have migrated here for whatever reason.

Care about and campaign for those unaccompanied child refugees still in Europe, and all who are separated from their family in the UK by bureaucracy and bad laws.

Whilst not our core objective, we will continue to do what we can for refugees worldwide, and those making perilous journeys in their flight.





candle-flameWe want to pay tribute to Jo Cox.

She worked hard, tirelessly and effectively for humanity and compassion to be at the fore of our troubled world. She stood up for child migrants stranded in the UK, asking the Government to take action; she kept up the pressure for action on those in Syria. She wanted a better world, and was prepared to work for it.

She was particularly worried about the current direction of politics across the world, “particularly around creating division and playing on people’s worst fears rather than their best instincts”.

We can only pay tribute to her for her work, and do what we can play our part in fulfilling her dreams.   Play our part in welcoming those who have sought sanctuary in the UK, and treating them with dignity and respect. She believed in working together with those who shared he values, and that is what we must continue to do.

At 4.00 pm today, people will start gathering in Trafalgar Square to pay tribute to her, with a minute’s silence at 4.29.

If you read this in time, please join in with that, and very importantly let none of us lose sight of what we need to do, to play our part in making a better world.

As Tim Farron said “Let this be a turning point for our country. When the world around us is fearful, confusing, and clouded, let us be the beacon of tolerance and hope.”