Lots of very significant events this week, ranging from very moving Holocaust Memorial events, to my Immigration roundtables and my Victims Bill.
Making the Victim’s Bill law
On Monday I held a consultation with the groups who have done so much to support the Victims Bill, which will come before Parliament on Friday. You can view the Bill here.
Preparation for the Victims Bill has taken over a year, with many roundtable meetings hosted by Doreen Lawrence and me and the hard work of Claire Waxman.
What we have drafted is intended as a ‘gold standard’ Victims Bill – see my Guardian comment piece here.
‘Don’t stand by!’ – Commemorating the Holocaust
On Tuesday I was at William Ellis School for a deeply moving event to remember the Holocaust.
We were privileged to hear the first hand testimony of one of the survivors of the Nazi death camps: Freda Wineman.
She was just nine when her whole family were deported – first to the Drancy transit camp on the outskirts of Paris, then on to the death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland.
As soon as they arrived they had to undergo a selection, where SS officers decided who was fit to work and who was to be exterminated.
Freda’s mother took a baby from a young Dutch woman and was sent to one side with Freda’s brother, Marcel. Freda followed her mother, but was told to stand in the other line, as her mother would be looking after the children.
“My mother said: ‘this is the end,’” Freda explained. And she was right. She was being sent to the gas chamber.
Freda was taken with the other women selected for work. Her head was shaved, she was disinfected and tattooed with the number A.7181.
You can read the full story of her horrific experiences and the extraordinary story of how she survived here.
After the chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis spoke on the meaning of the Holocaust today, we heard from Eden Lunghy – a student at La Sainte Union Convent School.
Last November she visited Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Eden explained just what the experience had meant to her. It was a brilliant speech and she has kindly agreed to let me share it with you here.
When I addressed the school I tried to explain how the words, ‘Don’t stand by!’ could apply in their own lives.
What do you do, I asked, when you see someone being bullied? Of when you come across people sleeping rough in the streets of Camden?
I told them of the Iraqi man I had met in the refugee camp in Calais, who was told to fight for ISIS, or be killed. And of how he is now living in a wood just an hour from the school.
I asked the pupils to hold in their minds Freda’s words. If they did they would make the right decision when the time came to decide how to act.
On Wednesday I participated in UCL’s Holocaust Day commemoration – another opportunity to stress our collective responsibility never to forget what humanity is capable of.
Listening to higher education
As part of my brief to shape Labour’s policy on refugees and immigration I held a meeting with representatives of universities and colleges.
I was keen to hear from them and discuss the issues they are facing in recruiting and serving the students they draw from around the world.
They explained to the distorting and damaging effect of considering overseas students as immigrants. By treating them this way they face a range of hurdles, which result in many being discouraged.
We have world class institutions. But can we really expect young people to spend vast sums of money, leave their friends and families and travel half way around the world, if they feel they are not welcome?
The ‘credibility’ interviews they must go through present arbitrary obstacles that can be almost impossible to pass.
If a student says he or she is not sure what work they will do at the end of the course, their visa can be turned down. They are also likely to be refused if they express an interest in working in the UK.
While the USA and Canada welcome these bright, talented young people, Britain is giving them the cold shoulder. We must do better!
On Wednesday, I led for Labour in the debate on Syrian refugees. While the government’s action in taking 20,000 Syrian refugees is welcome, so much more could and should be done. See my speech here.
Finally, I spoke this week at the APPG on domestic violence – one of the most important groups in Parliament – about how we tried to tackle domestic violence by using criminal cases and what lessons could be read across to family courts.
When the APPG’s report is published, I will circulate.