Labour Party Conference Update - Refugee Council
September 22, 2008

Labour Party Conference Update

By Jonathan, Campaigns and Public Affairs Team

The Refugee Council’s lobbying at the Party Conferences continues to go well.

This week we are in Manchester for the Labour Party Conference.  It is only Monday, and we have already held a fringe meeting, met with the influential Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, and hosted a breakfast to discuss resettlement with the Minister for Refugee Resettlement, Meg Hillier MP.

Last night we held our fringe  meeting which was themed – you guessed it! – around the Let Them Work campaign.  Jack Dromey, Deputy General Secretary of the UNITE trade union backed the campaign and called on Ministers to take note of the support of the unions.  Meanwhile Jon Cruddas MP, who was chairing the meeting, said that this was “one of the most important issues to be debated at the Conference”.  Refugee Council Chief Executive, Donna Covey, called on party Labour Party activists to take the campaign to their MPs and ask them to publicly back the campaign.

Hazel, a doctor from Zimbabwe who is still not allowed to work in the UK, shared her testimony:

I feel that not having the right to work for all these years has de-skilled me and has had a very negative impact on my self-esteem. I feel less confident now. I was a fantastic doctor in my country, but not having worked with a patient for 6 years has taken away the confidence that I had. 

If I had the right to work I would work in my field, I have assurances that I could have a job if I had the right to work. I would advance my career and develop further skills that I could take with me to my country when I am able to return.

Not being allowed to work has made my life very difficult, I live with 5 other women and a baby, people that I would not chose to live with. We have to share one toilet and one little shower. I have to live off 42.16 pounds a week. I never had to live like this in my own country. The assumption that I was worse off in my country is wrong. I lived a good life there. I simply had to leave due to political circumstances.”

Hazel’s testimony struck a chord with the audience, and immediately Nicholas, a delegate from a Liverpool consituency got up and applauded her courage.  Nicholas is a refugee from Zimbabwe who has settled in the UK.  Like many refugees, he is a committed political activist and has got stuck into politics in the UK – standing as a candidate in the local council elections. Today he gave a speech to the whole conference, making the links between the situation in Zimbabwe and the plight of Zimbabweans in the UK.  He got a huge round of applause – and hopefully will put more pressure on the Government to change the policy preventing skilled Zimbabweans like Hazel from working.