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In the UK, one of the many groups in society who find themselves at the jagged end of inequality and discrimination, and most likely to suffer from violations of their everyday human rights, are people seeking asylum. 

They are disproportionately more likely to live below the poverty line, in uninhabitable housing, feel hunger daily, and be prevented from accessing basic services like healthcare. A decent income, a habitable home, adequate food on the table, and access to healthcare, are all everyday human rights, which we are all entitled to.

In the fight for migrants’ rights and social justice, highlighting these experiences of inequality and discrimination, as violations of everyday human rights can be a powerful tool.

This is the message we delivered at the ‘Building Bridges: connecting stories and championing racial justice’ conference organised by the Runnymede Trust and the London School of Economics on 1 July. 

In partnership with Human Rights Watch, we laid out the various ways people seeking asylum in the UK are having their everyday rights disregarded, and how using the language of rights can be a powerful tool in campaigning to addressing this. 

The UK has ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), protecting our everyday human rights. We need to remind the UK Government of that they have an international obligation to uphold this Covenant.  

For example, take the right to adequate housing. There are currently thousands of men, women, and children living in unsafe and unsuitable hotel accommodation for many months and even years at a time. Whole families sharing small rooms, windows that don’t open, black mould growing on the walls, and rats running under the beds. This is a violation of people’s everyday rights. 

We encouraged conference participants to use our everyday rights in their campaigns:

  • Consider a rights-based argument.  As well as making classic moral arguments (it is not right to keep people in unsafe and unsuitable hotel conditions) or policy arguments (it costs the Government more money than properly housing them), consider a rights based argument, (being cramped in an overcrowded room is against right to adequate housing, therefore the UK Government is failing in its international obligations.)
  • Reframe the conversation. Take the right to food as an example, when you start talking about food as a human right, it changes the conversation. People seeking asylum are given a meagre amount of money to cover all their living costs, leading many to rely on food banks. However, even when hungry, many people avoid food banks because of the shame and stigma.  But everyone has the right to adequate food. If this right is not being met then it is not the hungry person who is to blame, but the UK Government, for failing to respect, protect and fulfil their rights. Talking about human rights in this way shifts the conversation away from personal responsibility. 

It is a failure on the part of the UK Government that people seeking asylum – alongside various other disproportionately affected groups – are suffering violations of their everyday rights. This dire situation calls for a rights-based response. It is time to flip the narrative and reframe the conversation. It is time to unveil these forgotten rights, so they can be reclaimed and utilised as a force for good.

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Background image by Gustaf Öhrnell Hjalmars