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Campaigning for Those who Seek Refuge: reflections during Refugee Week, 2021

Pal Luthra, HCoS Campaigns team member, is a trustee of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, and a member of Freedom from Torture and of Amnesty. He writes from his own experience about these three key organisations, which all work to bring about fair and humane asylum and immigration policies.

I am a proud UK Citizen, an immigrant and a person of colour. My family, on both paternal and maternal sides, were made refugees after the partition of India. I strongly believe that there is a link between my parents’ immigration to the UK and their experience of becoming refugees first. As we celebrate Refugee Week, I want to tell you about three campaigning organisations which I support, and why.

Freedom From Torture

I am a member of the East Sussex Freedom From Torture Supporters Group. Freedom From Torture, the national charity, is proud to be a part of the Together with Refugees coalition. Together, we are calling for a better approach to supporting refugees that is kinder, fairer and more effective.  This means standing up for people’s ability to seek safety in the UK no matter how they came here. It means ensuring people can live in dignity while they wait to hear if they will be granted protection.  It means empowering refugees and asylum seekers to rebuild their lives and make valuable contributions to our communities.  It means the UK working with other countries to help people who are forced to flee their homes.

Why Freedom From Torture? In response to the horrors of World War II, the United Nations agreed the landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 5 of the Declaration states: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Torture is now banned in international law. Despite this prohibition, torture continues across the world. Since its inception in 1985, over 57,000 individuals have been referred to Freedom From Torture for help. I support Freedom From Torture because it believes in “a world free from torture”.  The aims of the charity are:

Rehabilitation: help survivors of torture to realise their right to as full rehabilitation as possible. It provides specialist psychological therapies and support to help survivors of torture recover from complex post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety caused by torture and to rebuild their lives.

Protection: ensure survivors receive effective protection and are not returned to their countries of origin to face further torture. Ensure asylum decision-makers in the UK have timely access to high quality medical-legal reports prepared by Freedom from Torture clinicians which helps them with their asylum applications.

Accountability: ensure that states responsible for torture are held to account publicly and the human rights of survivors are guaranteed nationally and internationally.

The East Sussex Freedom from Torture Supporters’ Group aims to support the work of the charity by raising awareness and funds and campaigning in support of its work and aims. This is why we are organising a South Downs Coastal Walk on 4 July to raise awareness and raise funds for the charity. For more information you can contact us at: [email protected]. Please see our Facebook page here:

Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants

I am also a proud member and a trustee of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI). For more than half a century, JCWI has been challenging immigration policies that lead to discrimination, destitution and the denial of human rights. And it has been providing much-needed legal and advice services to the people who need them most. For far too long, people who move here have been seen by our politicians at best as numbers, at worst as not deserving of just and humane treatment. They have created a system where having the right immigration status can be a matter of life or death.

JCWI calls on our political leaders to do much better. It is time that newcomers, whether they are refugees, asylum seekers, migrants or Immigrants, are treated with fairness, dignity, respect and compassion. People have always moved. Down the road. To the next town. Sometimes people move to another country, as did my family, to make a better life. Sometimes they move because they have no other choice, as did my family after the partition. But in the UK, politicians have built an immigration system that often makes it impossible for people who move here to build a life and it frequently punishes them for even trying.

Why JCWI? I support JCWI because I believe it’s possible for the UK to be a place where newcomers are safe and where communities are strong, open and welcoming. it is a small charity, but it punches above its weight and supports refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants by:

  • Supporting vulnerable individuals & families with reliable, high-quality legal advice;
  • Challenging unjust and unfair laws and practices through judicial reviews and challenges in the courts;
  • Improving the quality of advice elsewhere through training and capacity building;
  • Influencing the debate on migration and fighting against the politics of hate and fear through its detailed research, policy and campaign work;
  • Building and supporting progressive movements at the grassroots and at the national level.

Work It Out is a campaign for migrants’ rights at work. In our hospitals, care homes, classrooms, retail and hospitality industries – through this pandemic, migrant workers have helped to ensure that none of us are left behind. As we recover from this pandemic, we must make sure we do not leave them behind. JCWI is calling for:

  • Everyone to have the legal right to work, lifting the restriction on employment regardless of immigration status.
  • A way for everyone to report dangerous or abusive working conditions without threat of detention and deportation.
  • Access to the social safety net for everyone, in case they lose their jobs or need to walk away from dangerous working conditions. That means scrapping the No Recourse to Public Funds rule.
  • Getting rid of the rules which bar people from everyday services like healthcare, housing and work. That means scrapping the hostile environment, for good.

Keeping Families Together: The current rules keep thousands of families apart, and restrict everyone’s right to love.  These rules stop British people who earn below £18,600 from living here with a partner from overseas. They keep people from their loved ones, and hold back families who are desperate to build a life together, work and raise children.

Ending the Hostile Environment: Since 2012, Government policy has been to create a ‘hostile environment’. From the ‘Go Home’ vans driven through ethnically diverse neighbourhoods, to passport checks when renting accommodation, in workplaces, in hospitals and schools, the government has worked to create a climate of hostility, criminalisation and impoverishment. These are the same policies which resulted in the Windrush Scandal, which denied healthcare and the right to work and detained or illegally removed residents long settled here. JCWI played a key role in exposing this scandal and has worked hard to dismantle the Hostile Environment, to support the victims of the scandal and to fight for better policies based on fairness, dignity, respect and compassion.

You too can become a member and support JCWI’s work. For more information please go to JCWI’s website:

Amnesty International

I am also a member of the Amnesty International UK and the Amnesty International Kent Network. Amnesty campaigns for the protection of human rights of all refugees, asylum seekers, migrants and minorities the world over, whether it is in USA, European Union, Bangladesh, Turkey, South Africa or the Gulf States. It also campaigns against breaches of human rights which make people flee to safety and seek asylum.

Why Amnesty International? I support Amnesty International because it is a truly international, member-led movement of more than 7 million people in 150 countries who campaign for a world where human rights are enjoyed by all. It started in1961 in London and now it is present in 80 countries.   Amnesty supporters bring positive changes to the lives of tens of thousands of people. Prisoners have been released, given needed medical attention, been granted access to lawyers and proper legal processes, and been able to have contact with family members. Death Penalty sentences have been overturned. Amnesty stands alongside those champions of human rights who are persecuted, intimidated, threatened, imprisoned, or beaten in attempts to silence them. Amnesty campaigns to protect them.

Local Groups: Local Groups are at the heart of what Amnesty does. As a member of a local group you could be involved in: letter writing and other forms of action on behalf of individuals whose rights have been abused; raising awareness about human rights through your local press; organising events and stalls and getting involved in local activities; and lobbying MPs to hold the government to account on human rights.

There is currently no local Amnesty group in Hastings or Rother, but there are active local groups or teams based in Tunbridge Wells, Lewes and Brighton. The Amnesty International Kent Network, launched in May 2020, provides a means for Amnesty supporters in Kent and (now) East Sussex to campaign on human rights, even in areas where there is no local group or team. It has grown to more than 80 activists and welcomes new members. Recently it has supported campaigns to close the Napier Barracks, to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and to resist the government’s New Plan on Immigration and Asylum. If you want to see an example of an Amnesty campaign, please go to : To contact the Kent Amnesty International Network, please email  [email protected]

“You will be erased and forgotten too”. Safwa Chowdhury, HCoS Campaigns team.