My great grandfather was Spanish. Salvador was a railway engineer by trade, who rose to be a transport minister for the Republican Government of Spain in the civil war against Franco’s Fascists. Dudi, as we call him, stands over our family like a colossus, spreading his shade.
Family history and myth relate the moments when he decided to flee Spain. His car was stopped by gun-men from his own side at a roadblock. After giving his name he was politely escorted to a bullet-pocked wall and relieved of his jacket. An overzealous official double checked his first name as the firing squad cock their rifles.
‘I’m Salvador, not Andres,’ says Dudi. ‘Sorry comrade,’ says the official and sends him on his way.
Dudi took his Scottish wife and two daughters to England and became a refugee. Many years later, after he had settled in Switzerland and written scores of books, he found himself landing in an aeroplane in Franco’s Spain due to weather conditions. He tells the air-crew he might be shot if he lands, so they keep him on board and hide his presence, while they take on fuel. Can you possibly imagine that this could happen post 9-11?
Fatma and her daughter were granted refugee status, and now the daughter teaches. Hussein who is gay receives his leave to remain, because he has a civil spouse and, if he was deported with his husband, why they’d both be lynched on a crane. Case after case, I’ve seen deserving families given succour. The great convention on refugees still stands to protect those who have suffered persecution (as long as they have a lawyer).
Sadly, swingeing cuts mean really great charities like the Refugee Legal Centre closed their doors this year after 40 years or so. They tried to re-brand, but to no avail. The public sympathy is against refugees.
At least 64% of people receiving civil legal aid will lose a service in Hackney. That’s 5,000 people, one tenth of the 50,000 people in London who will lose out. Sadly, there will be no funding anymore for social welfare law in almost all cases, and immigration will be cut to the bone.
And so Dudi, you great European Liberal, your dream of rights for refugees is still alive, and the shade your generation casts means we still observe the Refugee Convention and the Human Rights Act.
Only 10 Lib Dem MP’s rebelled against the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill in the third reading in the Commons. That was 10 brave people. 54 Lords spoke against the bill. That was 58 experts giving the bill a real kicking. We shall see.
This blog first appeared on the excellent Frontline Hackney blog