Content note: mentions rape, torture, domestic violence and conversion therapy

A protest with two signs, one reading "one world, one family" and the other reading "Refugees welcome, no one is illegal

Image credit: Creative Commons, Ilias Bartolini

I am Jan Doerfel and I am a Green Party European election candidate for the South East. I have dual nationality (British/German). From as far back as I can remember, I have felt obliged to speak out for the rights of asylum seekers and migrants. In fact, as I later learnt, my father and grandmother were refugees themselves (having fled from East Germany to West Germany during the Cold War).

A cruel migration system

I now work as an immigration barrister in London and fight for migrants and asylum seekers. People who have come face-to-face with the most dreadful and traumatic experiences that are barely imaginable. Men and women who have been subjected to torture (including rape, mock executions, suspension by their limbs, burning with cigarette butts, etc.), who have been repeatedly detained in inhumane prison conditions and who have been persecuted by state agents because they are considered by their Governments as ‘enemies’ or ‘undesirable’ due to their ethnicity, political opinion, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity or because they are human rights defenders and journalists who have selflessly and courageously spoken up for others, for human rights and for justice.

I have represented victims of horrendous domestic violence whose lives are not safe because they cannot rely on state protection. I have represented trans and gay young people who have been forced by their families to undergo toxic, degrading and deeply damaging ‘conversion therapies’. I have represented persons who have worked as interpreters in war zones or assisted Western Governments and were at risk when troops pulled out.

When they managed to flee to the UK (a journey often fraught with considerable danger and risks, during which they are in the hands of others who determine their destiny), what they were met with here was not understanding, a listening ear and sympathy for what they had been through and what they had lost (their homes, their bodily and mental health and often family members) but a cynical asylum process geared to refuse them, irrespective of their background and the evidence they adduced to prove it.

Their lives are often made much worse by delays in waiting for an initial decision and for the outcome of appeals. Delays mean unbearable ongoing uncertainty which prevents these vulnerable individuals from overcoming their traumatic experiences, prevents them rebuilding themselves and building a home in a safe environment. Prevented from working whilst fighting their immigration/asylum cases, they are faced with a merciless and hostile environment. Often, the only saving grace, the only safety net between destitution and complete despair (and suicide) is the kindness of strangers and friends. And it is this kindness which is vital and maintains the hope that someone will finally listen and offer protection.

Solidarity and migration

Seeing this day in, day out, it is high time for an asylum policy based on solidarity and humanity, an approach that allows for legal and safe channels for persons fleeing from persecution and for a joint European response that enables the fair sharing of international responsibilities among Member States to ensure that we protect human rights and our common values of humanity.

Especially in times of fear-mongering, I feel it is important that we remind ourselves of the contributions made by refugees and migrants who wish nothing more than make a new life, live in peace and harmony and contribute to the society which has welcomed them.

It is also important to remind ourselves that fear and hate strips all of us of our common humanity and leaves us all at sea. This is why I am standing as a Green MEP candidate on a positive platform to affect change that benefits us all.