Tania Baldwin-Pask, Hosting Services Manager at Sanctuary Hosting, reflects on the importance of Human Rights Day. Sanctuary Hosting will become part of Asylum Welcome from January 2023.

Saturday 10th December – Human Rights Day – marks the start of a year-long celebration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), culminating in the 75th anniversary on 10 December 2023. Set as a “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”, the UDHR is the foundation upon which a complex structure of treaties have been built over several decades by the United Nations of states. Together with the UDHR, this body of international human rights laws cover a range of rights – from health and adequate housing, to protection from racism, torture and ill-treatment, to the rights of women, children and persons with disabilities. On the 10 December, we reflect on the fundamental importance of the UDHR, both in respect of the rights enshrined in that document, as well as the pathway it provides for the development of all of the other rights that we promote in our own lives and in the lives of the people we support through Asylum Welcome and Sanctuary Hosting.

An important provision of the UDHR in our work is Article 14 of the UDHR. This gives everyone the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution. It is an article that has appeared in several human rights treaties since the UDHR was adopted and it was the stimulus for the further elaboration of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. Yet the rights of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants, and the laws and policies that should protect them, are increasingly under threat. In 2022 alone, we have seen a hardening of the so-called “hostile environment” including through the introduction of the Nationalities and Borders Act and plans for the forced removal of asylum-seekers and refugees to Rwanda. Such were the appalling conditions at Manston processing centre that the (European) Committee for the Prevention of Torture undertook an urgent visit to the facility in November.

The backslide on these rights is neither acceptable nor inevitable. If this anniversary year of the UDHR gives us any reason for hope, it is to consider that the actions of an individual, a group, an organisation make a difference. Offering a safe place to sleep, giving immigration advice or help to find a doctor, providing a space for an art club for young people – these are examples of important and practical actions in enabling those seeking sanctuary to enjoy basic human rights. 

Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.

– Eleanor Roosevelt (one of the drafters of the UDHR)