We were delighted to welcome Vicky Tennant, the UNHCR Representative to the UK, to deliver our annual Refugee Week Lecture at Belfast City Hall.
This year’s lecture, “Refugees and forced displacement: global trends, local impacts”, was delivered in honour of our friend and colleague, Ronnie Vellem, who worked tirelessly to help refugees and asylum seekers in Northern Ireland.
Vicky’s lecture reflected on the global refugee picture and how that has evolved over the last 25 years. She also took stock of the current international response to the refugee crisis and examined how these trends are playing out in the UK and Northern Ireland.
Vicky spoke about the generosity and compassion of local communities that she has seen receiving and hosting refugees around the world, but also the reality that, in many countries, especially those further away from conflict zones, the environment for refugees is a hostile one.
Speaking on the Government’s Illegal Migration Bill, Vicky said: “The Bill is a very sweeping piece of draft legislation that if enacted, would all but dismantle the asylum system that has enabled refugees to seek and find protection in the UK for the last 30 years or more. It would operate as a ban on seeking asylum in the UK for all but a very few refugees and without any consideration of their individual circumstances.”
The theme of Refugee Week this year was compassion. It is primarily a week for celebration and Vicky spoke of her pride in Belfast – a City of Sanctuary – which has formally committed to making Belfast a welcoming environment for refugees, asylum seekers and new communities.
“A place that has witnessed so much violence and despair, has become a place of refuge for so many. We have so much to teach others about reconciliation, and we have so much to learn from them”.