The Power You Hold
By Sophie Kasmi
In light of Unicef’s Refugee Family Reunion Campaign, Sophie Kasmi discusses the common misperception that we are unable to influence law reform
The English legal system is widely regarded as one of the best and most independent in the world. In the increasingly globalized climate, it is common for individuals and businesses to choose English law and the courts of England and Wales to govern their legal relationships, even where there is otherwise no link to the United Kingdom. Those of us who have only ever lived under this legal system more often than not take for granted, and can even be ignorant of, the protections and rights that it bestows upon us.
One of the most valuable aspects of the system is the fact that it is under constant scrutiny and development. Because of a lack of a written (or ‘codified’) constitution, Parliament (by passing new laws) and the Courts (in applying them) are able to amend or adapt existing laws to fit with changes to the norms and views of our society, limited almost only by fundamental principles such as democracy, justice and parliamentary sovereignty.
When we vote in elections, we are letting these lawmakers know what our views as members of society are. While the importance of voting is promoted widely, what is not so well promoted, and what many of us rarely think about, is the other ways in which we can voice our view on specific aspects of law and policy, to effect real change. This is despite the fact that often it is one or two issues that are very important to us that swing our vote in elections.
Sometimes we find ourselves with strong views for or against something that we hear about – we may even find ourselves outraged. But aside from discussing it with our friends, families and colleagues, what do we do? It is usually difficult to believe that any action we take will make a difference, so we rarely bother. We must never forget however, that although one small act taken by one person may not in itself result in big change, it can be the seed of, or an important step towards, such change.
“Even the largest avalanche is triggered by small things.“ – Vernor Vinge
Unicef Next Generation (NextGen) London was initially founded by one person, Layla Yarjani, and is a perfect example of this, as the initiative which led to now widely established projects such as CookForSyria and MIGRATE. What’s more, the initiative is one that is here to enable others, specifically young professionals aged 21-40, to make real contributions to help transform the lives of the world’s most vulnerable children.
Unicef and NextGen are currently campaigning for reforms to the UK Family Reunion Law in relation to child refugees. Amazingly, under current law the UK Government does not recognise older siblings, aunts, uncles or grandparents as family members of child refugees. This means that children fleeing from war or persecution are forced to make their own journey to Europe to be reunited with these close family members waiting for them in the UK, at a high risk of falling into the hands of smugglers and traffickers.
As the UK plans its departure from the EU, the UK Government is deciding the future of refugee law, and the ‘A Child is a Child’ campaign is calling on the Home Secretary to fix this law, which seems contrary not only to fundamental principles of our justice system, but also to the moral values of modern British society. That means the time is ripe for you to join this campaign and push the government to fix this broken law that is keeping families apart. Family comes in so many different shapes and forms. What it represents is what counts – love, care, protection, warmth; things that no child should be without. This, as well as even more basic needs such as food, water and safety, are what children are being kept from as a result of the law in its current form. Time is running out to ensure that we as a nation help to reunite children with close family members in the UK.
SPEAK TO THE LAWMAKERS
One way in which you can contribute today to the reform of this misplaced legal provision is to write, speak, or meet with your local Member of Parliament (MP), who has a special duty to respond to his or her constituents. This is a widely underused right, and one can have a huge impact. Your MP represents you and all the local people in your constituency, and has the power to raise issues on your behalf in Parliament. If you are able to convince them to do so, you are halfway to effecting real change. Strength in numbers is most effective – the more constituents an MP is contacted by regarding one matter, the more it will be brought to his attention; and the more MPs that are contacted about the issue, the more likely it is to be raised in and supported by others in Parliament.
You can find out who your MP is at www.parliament.uk/
WESTMINSTER HALL DEBATE – 22 February 2018
The Government is discussing the future of the UK’s refugee laws right now, and has the crucial opportunity to choose to include this fix in their refugee plans in the coming weeks. Ensure that your MP takes their one final chance to ensure that the Government includes this urgent fix before plans for refugees are published. Make sure they attend the Westminster Hall Debate on Family Reunion on Thursday 22 February 2018: contact them now. Details about the debate can be found here.
MAKE IT PUBLIC
Local media outlets such as newspapers and radio stations are an excellent way to spread the word in your local community. This is another massively underused medium, and a great way to gain the attention of your MP, whether or not you have already contacted them. If you host an event and promote it in your local press, event better. NextGen have lots of advice and material that can be used to prepare your pitch to a local newspaper. Simply get in touch and we can help you make the headlines!
PLEDGE YOUR ALLEGIANCE
Another way to raise your voice about a subject is by setting up or signing a petition. This is likely something you have been asked to do before, but may have been disheartened by the lack of a track record of their success. Widely promoted petitions can however be powerful tools which can raise the profile and importance of an issue in society. Sign Unicef’s petition for the ‘A Child is a Child’ campaign here.
Finally, and perhaps more familiarly, we all know how powerful social media has become, and no matter how small your online presence, each post has the potential to reach and touch others. Use the hashtags #AChildisAChild and #UNICEF to show your support and make others curious about something that counts.
As Edmund Burke, once an MP, said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”