by Ella Marshall, work experience student, February 2018
Having always been interested in feminism and women’s rights (or lack of in many parts of the world) I decided to take part in a week’s work experience with René Cassin to expand my knowledge of human rights. I thought it would be fascinating and inspiring to see how charities campaign to change laws and legislation in an attempt to make the world a more equal place.
Part of what appealed to me about René Cassin was the fact that, despite being a Jewish charity, its focus is not solely on Jewish issues and anti-Semitism. It focuses on hate crime towards Travellers as well as attitudes to non-Jewish refugees and non-Jewish slaves – which, prior to beginning my work experience, I was not expecting. However, I soon came to realise that René Cassin draws on Jewish history and experience to empathise with other minorities that don’t have a voice of their own. They apply Jewish values and relate them to helping those in need, whether they are Jewish or not.
René Cassin focuses on the rights of asylum seekers and migrants, modern day slaves, and Gypsy, Roma and Travellers. I think that it is important for me, and others like me who are part of a privileged majority in this country, to work towards understanding and helping those who may not have a voice in this country and are being failed by our government and system.
Left to rot – asylum seekers in indefinite detention
For example, asylum seekers and migrants are held in indefinite detention in the UK. They are put in detention centres where they live in squalid conditions, often rife with abuse and mistreatment. Many of these asylum seekers are very vulnerable due to having already experienced unthinkable things in their own countries and, upon arriving in the UK, they are left to rot.
The UK is the only country in Europe that does not have a time limit on detention. Innocent people are held indefinitely and often refused entry by our shambolic Home Office. The Home office is overworked and understaffed, as well as being heavily influenced by subconscious xenophobia and a culture of disrespect towards immigrants.
I urge anyone reading this to have a look at the article published by The Guardian giving examples of why some refugees who are in danger of persecution in their own country were rejected from entering the UK. The decisions are ridiculous and unreasonable; emphasising that the Home Office doesn’t seem to care about the dangers individuals face, this shows disgusting lack of empathy for other human beings Despite immigration detention being blatantly inhumane and costing the government over £500 million over the past 4 years, they are resistant to setting a time limit or considering alternatives to detention.
Assessing the scale of the problem – human rights in the media
Before beginning my week’s work experience, I knew very little about immigration detention and modern day slavery. Despite being passionate about inequality and injustice, I didn’t have any idea of the gravity of the situation.
On my first day at René Cassin I was asked to compile a summary of any news reports relating to immigration detention, slavery, asylum seekers or Gypsies, Roma and Travellers that had been published in the past week. This allowed me to quickly gain an accurate understanding of these topics, what was currently happening in the world surrounding these issues, and learn shocking facts and statistics that highlighted the huge scale of the problem.
Slavery is not history
Before lunchtime on my very first day I was already enthralled by René Cassin’s key themes and concerned about how little people around me seem to know about the severity of immigration detention and modern slavery. In the modern world we all seem to be in denial that slavery still exists. We don’t like to think that even within the UK there are still slaves, but we have to face reality. “Slavery” shouldn’t just be associated with the trans-Atlantic slave trade or the Israelites in Egypt, but with modern day nail salons, takeaways and high street shops selling cheap clothes. People are blind to the fact that slavery is happening right under our nose. I think it is important that the extent of modern slavery becomes common knowledge and is spoken about more, possibility through being taught in schools and universities.
A busy and inspiring week
During the week I attended a Detention Forum meeting, which gave me an insight into how charity organisations operate and work together in order to achieve a shared goal. This included lobbying, talking to MPs, raising awareness and organising events. Listening to people so passionate and dedicated to what they do inspired me to pursue a career centred around human rights which, up until this point, I had never really considered.
I was truly inspired by René Cassin’s work and have become deeply passionate about things that, less than a week ago, I knew very little about. Following the end of my work experience I want to continue drawing attention to the unjust nature of immigration detention and have decided to raise the issue of indefinite detention with my local MP.
Under the current climate human rights seem to be regressing rather than progressing. The European Withdrawal Bill could in the future, pose a threat to our current human rights, and the rights of others wishing to seek asylum in our country. Leaving the EU could result in less protection for our rights and stricter immigration laws. As a young person who will grow up to be a working adult in post-Brexit Britain I believe that now, more than ever, we need to stand up for our rights and the rights of those less fortunate than ourselves. Not only did René Cassin give me excellent experience of working with an NGO, providing me with important skills for future jobs, but it also encouraged me to care about new topics and continue working towards worldwide equality for all.