SANCTUARY IN PARLIAMENT November 2016
Personal view from Suzanne Fletcher from Tees Valley of Sanctuary.
This event drew together over 200 people including 43 MPs and Peers to listen to powerful refugee testimony on “Standing up for the Right to Asylum”.
The evening before I met up with Baroness Shas Sheehan and gave her an outline of the issues that concern us.
These included problems around destitution; the short length of time between getting refugee status and support ending; lack of facilities for learning English; removals to unsafe countries; some housing issues, and the situation faced by some Christians fleeing from Pakistan.
Not part of the S in P agenda, but she told me about the situation in France after the Calais Jungle had been cleared from her experience there.
The Sanctuary in Parliament event was opened by our host Thangham Debbonaire MP. “This is your parliament; it belongs to you not the government”
I didn’t hear all the speakers as I was in and out of the room quite a bit ensuring people met those they needed to. A number from Stockton were able to meet Alex Cunningham MP and talk to him. James Wharton MP met with some from Stockton South. I called in briefly to talk about the 28 day after getting status issue and how it affected one of his constituents.
Lord Brian Paddick came and listened to what a number of our TVOS delegation had to say on the Prevent issues, shared rooms, and other issues raised with him I was not party to. Baroness Shas Sheehan came too and listened to a lot of our people. They both said they were taking some of the issues up both for individuals and in general. Brian Paddick asked if it was a representative sample that had come down from Tees Valley, he was taken aback by the number of problems, and I told him there was worse that had not come. He said “thank you for the opportunity to hear for myself what they have to go through, it has been so illuminating”. Baroness Hamwee was only able to make it towards the end but had an emotional meeting with Emad and Emmar (her family is from Aleppo, and as she said, “it could have been her in that situation”. Lord Roger Roberts took a number for tea in the House of Lords and listened further there. He spoke of some of the things he had heard at an event I attended with him that evening.
In the meeting itself, our own Emad Raad was the first speaker and there was applause as we hear his twin brother has arrived. He told us how he was now a support worker in Hartlepool making refugees from Syria welcome and support.
He hopes to be able. Go back one day. He spoke of support for other asylum seekers in need; right to work; need to be properly updated by case worker in asylum claims; Need resettlement programme for ALL Asylum seekers
Mayen Mazoor originally from Aleppo, Refugees for Justice spoke, hoping that the nightmare would disappear. He went through his issues – Was it right to leave his family? But looking for sanctuary for them too. Granted leave to remain. Wanted family unification but not covered by legal aid. Cost £1000 nearly. Didn’t know people to ask for help. His charity is far too stretched and needs more funding for cases not covered by legal aid.
Steve simmonds Amnesty international. “We have not enough family support ” said minister re children in education. AI Reminded him of asylum children who need to be reunited with families and so many barriers out there.
George Gabriel, Safe Passage and Citizens UK spoke of situation in Calais. U.K. is only country not to take share in Europe from those arriving Greece. By Jan not one child reunited with family in UK. Desperately need safe passage for refugees.
Sabin Zazal. Director of Coventry organisations including City of Sanctuary. From Afghanistan. Talked of journey from fear to hope. Then welcome. Those who came under resettlement programme are now helping and supporting others. it shows the resilience of refugees. He said we had enough of stats, numbers and politics, so good now to listen to real people.
Ambrose Musiyima from Zimbabwe read from “The man who ran through the tunnel.” “When I heard/ how he ran/…/and through tunnels/ how could I fail/ to be inspired?” The story officials don’t want to be spread and inspire others to make such bids for safety. He spoke of the irony of the UK only securing borders so British can go safely on holiday.
Sohail Ali from Pakistan. Told how Pakistan is not the safe country we think it is. Asylum process starts with screening interview, you are offered legal aid so you think it is nice, helpful and wise.
Initial conditions in Cardiff terrible he would not wish on an enemy. No respect, awful food. Should have been there no more than 4 weeks but there for 90 days. On Legal Aid he said, lawyers just take the case but not very good. Told 95% of cases refused and if you need to appeal they won’t be able to do. Legal aid lawyers must be well equipped and experienced to take on cases.
Lily spoke of the impact of destitution. She became homeless and had to sleep in a park. Then when leave to remain given no NI number so destitute again but this time luck to be hosted.
Because dispersal is up north, local councils in the south have no understanding at all. No support services. Should have right to work, not have to use food banks for food and sanitary wear. Such a long time to get status and then not get NI number. Teaching qualification from Zimbabwe not recognised here so not able to teach here.
Dave Smith NACCOM talked of the difficulty in getting an NI number and then getting jobs.
200,000 bed nights have been offered. Stories of those helped in his book.
Jonathan Ellis, Red Cross spoke of the humanitarian crisis. 3724 last year were in crisis, destitute. Should never happen.
28 days not enough, they were told by minister it will be reviewed but it hasn’t been.
Nobody getting status should be destitute. Increased challenge now and it will effect children. Impact on those who cannot return, new act will support less people. Must make humanitarian stand on destitution.
Freed Voices (linked with Detention Action) speaker told how the group he was with lost 20 years of life. U.K. only country in Europe that has indefinite detention. Most are there for no purpose as released anyway. Treated like prisoners whilst in detention. No journalists or cameras are allowed in, so nobody hears your voice. Detention Centres are in the middle of nowhere, so it is very difficult for visitors. But he ended saying “We are part of a strong and powerful meeting, So much important work is being done “.
Maurice Wren from refugee Council summed up at the end
“ Take strength, energy and commitment out of this room to society, we are all hurting not just about refugees about all who are marginalised. Having heard those speak today, people are not defined by being a refugee but as an engineer, a dad, a doctor, a carer, a poet, a real person.”