"Not the Ideal Home Show" wins award at UK Labour Party Conference
A myth-busting UNHCR canvas tent, airlifted to the UK and refitted to resemble the typical shabby British bed-sit used to house asylum seekers, has received an award by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
BRIGHTON, United Kingdom, September 29 (UNHCR) - Prime Minister Tony Blair awarded the UN refugee agency "Best Stand: Space Only Category" at a ceremony Wednesday night during the Labour Party's annual meeting.
UNHCR's Party Conference stand 'Not The Ideal Home Show' - a play on the name of a major annual house furnishings exhibition - was the agency's first ever effort to highlight the lives of asylum seekers and refugees in the UK and abroad at a political party conference.
The agency's prize-winning stand is a canvas tent airlifted to the UK from one of UNHCR's relief operations and refitted to resemble the typical bed-sit with peeling paint normally used in Britain to house asylum seekers awaiting decisions on their asylum claims. It was recognized by judges for successfully portraying the message of loneliness and desolation, as experienced by many exiles.
Prizes were awarded by the Prime Minister, who was accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and Mrs. Cherie Blair.
Mrs. Blair had visited UNHCR's stand earlier in the day while touring the exhibition. She took part in a computerised quiz on refugee and asylum issues and reviewed the agency's awareness-raising videos.
"With 'Not the Ideal Home Show,' we're trying to show the reality behind the lives of asylum seekers and refugees," said Bemma Donkoh, UNHCR representative in the UK.
"Only a very small fraction of the world's refugees and asylum seekers, barely 2 percent, come to the UK," Donkoh said. "Mostly, they come here when they can't get the protection and assistance they need close to home, but all too often their predicament is misunderstood."
"Refugees are fleeing persecution and gross abuses of human rights, the same scourges that the world pledged to eradicate at the end of the Second World War, but which all too often thrive today in countries experiencing instability and conflict," Donkoh added.
More than 220 stands participated in the exhibition at the Labour Party Conference, which is attended by more than 12,000 party activists and closes today.
The large number of stands at the conference presented the organisers with difficult choices in the four categories that received awards.
"As in previous years, the competition was fierce, with extremely high standards of design and creativity, as well as the ability to get out the exhibitor's message effectively," the judges said.
In addition to awarding UNHCR a plaque and a bottle of champagne in the "Space Only Category," the Prime Minister awarded "Best Stand: Delegates Choice" to RNID, which campaigns on behalf of the UK's deaf population. Cancer Research UK received "Best Stand: Shell Scheme Category" and Liverpool City Council received "Best Stand: Organisers' Choice."
"Britain is not the ideal home for refugees, most want to get back to their homelands or get the assistance they need in their countries of first asylum," said refugee agency spokesman Peter Kessler, who received the award on behalf of UNHCR's London office.
The refugee agency's stand, designed by Hartnell Creative Communication Ltd. of Dorset, plays upon a couple of the many stereotypes and exaggerations seen in the press which purport that Britain is the "asylum capital of the world" and that refugees in the UK live on "Easy Street."
In addition to the quiz, which has been administered to many hundreds of politicians and party activists to test their knowledge about the lives of refugees and asylum seekers, UNHCR also showed television ads depicting how persecution and conflict engulfs communities, forcing people to suddenly become refugees.
The number of asylum seekers arriving in Britain has dropped by almost two-thirds since 2002, with only 15,000 arriving in the first half of the year. France currently leads industrialised countries receiving asylum seekers, followed by the USA, with the UK trailing a distant third.
Visitors to the refugee agency's stand learned that Chad has received far more refugees this year than the UK, for example, and that asylum seekers would like to contribute to their host communities but cannot do so due to restrictive regulations that force them to remain dependent upon state aid.
The refugee agency's conference stand will move to Blackpool for the Conservative Party Conference next week, following its visit to the Liberal-Democrats Party Conference a week ago, and the Labour Party Conference.
By Peter Kessler in Brighton, United Kingdom