Tony Blair praises the ‘courage and resilience’ of asylum seekers and refugees as he joins David Cameron and Sir Menzies Campbell in marking the launch of Refugee Week 2006.
In a unique collaboration, the three party leaders set aside their differences to say how much they value the contributions given by refugees to this country, and to restate their commitment to providing sanctuary to people fleeing persecution.
Under the banner ‘different pasts, shared future,’ Refugee Week (19th – 25th June) is a UK-wide programme of events that celebrates the contribution of refugees to the UK and aims to encourage better understanding between communities.
The Right Honourable Tony Blair said: “Our country has benefited hugely throughout its history from the contributions of those who have fled here to escape persecution. There is nothing new about this. We celebrate this year, for example, the 350th anniversary of the return of the first Jews to England after their expulsion in the Middle Ages.
“Like those from all continents to whom Britain has been a safe haven before and since, they have repaid our hospitality by enriching our culture, our society and country. Refugee Week celebrates this contribution. It also reminds us of the courage and resilience of those who must continue to leave family, friends and home to escape prosecution.
“Britain and its people have a proud heritage of welcoming refugees. We must continue to do so. We must also provide them with the support they need to fulfil their potential and make their own full contribution to our society. I am delighted that we are again sponsoring Refugee Week and give it my full support.”
The Right Honourable David Cameron MP said: “The British tradition of welcoming genuine refugees to this country is a great one, and I hope we continue to show this generosity of spirit in the future. Refugees who have come to this country have produced many of the things we regard as typically British, Marks and Spencer an excellent example. I hope Refugee Week is a great success.”
The Right Honourable Sir Menzies Campbell MP said: “Refugee Week 2006 is an opportunity for Liberal Democrats to restate their commitment to supporting those who seek sanctuary in the UK. We would like to see all political parties taking a positive approach to refugees. We have a collective responsibility to acknowledge their strong contribution to our economy, culture and society.”
Commenting on the support from the party leaders, Almir Koldzic, UK Co-ordinator for Refugee Week, said: “It’s magnificent and unprecedented that the main party leaders have joined thousands of people across the UK in celebrating the great contribution of refugees to the UK.
“The leaders’ support shows that Refugee Week has become the most important UK-wide platform for counterbalancing all those alarmist stories about asylum. The reality is very different – as the party leaders have recognised.
“We hope that these very positive statements of support will be seen as a general call for much greater understanding of asylum seekers and refugees, who give so much to our society.”
For the first time, Refugee Week will be officially launched by the Minister for Refugee Integration. Joan Ryan MP will kick-off the week at an event on Thursday 15th June at the ICA in London, backed by a performance by Zeela, a choir of Liberian refugees who were amongst the first arrivals in the UK under the Gateway Programme.
Refugee Week is a multi-agency project, with partners currently including: Amnesty International UK, British Red Cross, International Rescue Committee UK, Oxfam, Refugee Action, Refugee Council, Save the Children UK, Scottish Refugee Council, STAR (Student Action for Refugees), UNHCR and Welsh Refugee Council.
Events during Refugee Week include music and art festivals; football tournaments; exhibitions; conferences; film screenings; school activities; theatre plays and more. For case studies, quotes and more information on events, see www.refugeeweek.org.uk
Apart from the partner agencies, the project is also funded by: Arts Council England, Comic Relief, Department for International Development, the Home Office, Association of London Governments, Greater London Authority and by a great number of other funding bodies and individuals which support various activities across the country.
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