On Friday 26th February, over a hundred people gathered in central London to celebrate the work of the Notre Dame Refugee Centre. Established by Notre Dame de France Church in the 1990s as a response to a Francophone refugee crisis, the Centre today is an independent charity, set in the heart of Westminster, and offering support, training, advice and welcome to refugees and asylum seekers from all over Africa and the Middle East.
A panel of experts addressed the gathering. Introducing the panel, Martin McAnaney SM, the Marist Provincial for Europe and Chair of the Centre's trustees said: ‘There is so much fear around, so many myths and scare stories, and such a lack of balanced, responsible, compassionate conversation. We have come to realise that we are a forum for such conversations, as well as doing our core job of supporting individuals and families.’
The panel included Don Flynn, director of Migrants' Rights Network (MRN), who helped to found the network of civil society organisations, after 30 years’ work on migration issues in law centres. He has also worked as a policy officer at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and an immigration caseworker in London.
Solicitor Mark Scott told the meeting, ‘We can't go on going to court, just in order to make points about existing laws.’ A solicitor with the law firm Bhatt Murphy, Scott has successfully represented unaccompanied children and vulnerable young adults living in the Jungle camp in Calais and, along with Citizens UK, enabled them to join families living in the UK.
‘We don't need new laws,’ explained barrister John Walsh. ‘We need a sense of history, of the historical context in which these things are taking place, and an accurate interpretation of existing laws.’ Walsh, who is a trustee of the Notre Dame de France Refugee Centre, specialises in immigration and asylum law and appears frequently before the Immigration and Asylum Chamber of the Upper Tribunal and First-Tier Tribunal.
Commenting on the presentations, Sarah Hughes, Director of the Notre Dame Refugee Centre, said: ‘This evening has demonstrated how many people are deeply committed to achieving respect and dignity for refugees and asylum seekers in London. Our Centre has vital evidence to bring to the table and we are exploring new ways of doing this.’