On Tuesday this week we went to the House Of Commons see the Refugee Council’s chief executive, Donna Covey, giving evidence and answering questions from the Home Affairs Select Committee on behalf of asylum seekers and refugees about the Draft Immigration and Citizenship Bill.
The meeting was scheduled to start at 10.30am, but we got there early so I had a chance to see some of the MPs that I always read about in the newspaper and watch on television. It was quite an experience for me! We walked past people like Kate Hoey MP and former Home Secretary Charles Clarke (who is always wearing a serious face!). It was amazing anyway..
The meeting was chaired by Keith Vaz (MP for Leicester East), who is the chair of the Select Committee. The meeting was just for 45 minutes but very productive. Donna Covey was really good at answering the Committee’s questions. It was amazing to watch as the questions were coming one after the other and she gave the right answers to all of them.
What really struck me was the part of the draft Bill whereby detainees are required to pay some money as a guarantee to the Home Office so that an individual can be granted bail. Donna pointed out to the Committee that it may mean that some individuals are less likely to receive bail, regardless of the length of time already spent in detention, an individual’s state of health and the impact that detention would have on the individual and their family/
Personally, I feel it is harsh to ask for money from asylum seekers who are fleeing persecution from their troubled countries. If they can’t work, where are they supposed to get the money from?
Anyway, it was an interesting experience for me and I learnt a lot even though it was just for a short time.
After the meeting, we had a tour around the House of Commons. It does look big from the outside but it is actually quite small. It has amazing paintings. We visited the House of Commons chamber and my guide explained most the things that go on in there for me, and the signficance of the colour green for the carpets and cushions. It is a debating chamber where every MP is free to express his or her own view on a matter and where opposing arguments can be expressed. We visited the House of Lords as well, which is red in colour. I feel so privileged to have been to the home of one of the oldest parliamentary democracies in the world.
As I was walking along I saw a label written “lavatory”. I heard this word used a long time ago in Zimbabwe. I remember my grandmother used to use that word, especially when she wanted to prove that she could speak English!
After our tour around we had lunch, and we went for a meeting with a senior Liberal Democrat MP at. 2.30pm. At this point I was still trying to absorb what I had seen in the morning and the experience of being in a meeting with respected people like Keith Vaz and Charles Clarke. The MP’s secretary came to get us, and when we met him the MP was a very laid back man. He is in full support of us on how asylum seekers should be treated, especially that they should be allowed to work if they cannot be sent back to their countries.
The MP deals with a number of asylum seekers in his constituency, and he was frustrated that people are kept waiting for such long time without work. He said: “If there are jobs around, why not let them work?!”
It was great to see that there are supportive MPs speaking up for asylum seekers in Parliament. I think I would like to see more MPs who have such a positive mind towards asylum seekers.