Jean Lambert, the Green MEP for London, has today marked Refugee Week by urging people to celebrate the “invaluable contribution” refugees bring to life in the UK.
The aim of Refugee Week is to challenge misconceptions about refugees through awareness-raising events, while showcasing the many ways in which the UK has benefited from their diverse skills. One of the biggest myths is that the UK operates an “open door” policy on asylum and the country is being “flooded” by immigrants. To the contrary, the UK only received 25,670 asylum applications in 2008 , a figure that has fallen by almost half over the last five years, and we are ranked just 17th in a league table of industrialised countries for the number of claims per head of population .
Jean, who is a leading voice on asylum and immigration, says: “With so many negative myths surrounding the issue of asylum and immigration it is easy to lose the real story. Refugee Week offers a unique opportunity to dispel these misconceptions and focus on the truth behind the misinformed hype.
“Refugees are not here to scrounge off our welfare system, they are people forced out of their homes because their life and often the lives of their families have been put in danger because of war, conflict or political persecution. Increasingly, we are also seeing the most vulnerable communities losing their livelihoods and homes because of the impact of climate change, with rising sea levels, local water supplies threatened and land and crops lost to dramatic changes in weather.
“Asylum seekers are looking for a place of safety, not, as some people would have you believe, a place that would be economically beneficial. Indeed, many refugees live in hope that one day they can return to their homeland but whilst a variety of reasons often means that this is impossible their contribution to life in the UK is invaluable. From the NHS, to the construction industry, from the world of business to the service sector, refugees are an integral part of the very fabric of our society and Refugee Week is a celebration of this.
“But, of course, behind the celebration we mustn’t forget that refugees have not chosen to live here, they have had that choice made for them. To address this situation we need political action to reduce conflict, protect human rights and protect our planet.”
Notes to editors:
 Home Office quarterly statistical summary, asylum statistics 2008
 UNHCR Asylum levels and trends in industrialised countries 2007 and 2008
For further information on Refugee Week visit: http://www.refugeeweek.org.uk
Jean Lambert is the European Parliament’s Rapporteur on the revision of the Qualifications Directive and was recently responsible for securing the European Parliament’s support for the creation of a European Asylum Support Office.
She is one of eight MEPs representing London and one of two UK Green representatives in the European Parliament. Jean was first elected Green Party Member of the European Parliament for London in the 1999 European elections and was re-elected in 2004 and 2009.