A Labour leader with a refugee background – chance for change in asylum policy? - Refugee Council
October 5, 2010

A Labour leader with a refugee background – chance for change in asylum policy?

By guest blogger, Ali Tarbosh, one of our refugee delegates at the Labour Party Conference. Ali is Chairman of the Iraqi Community in Sheffield, and came to the UK from Iraq through the Gateway Programme.

I think the Labour party conference was so interesting, fruitful and informative. There were plenty of fringe meetings that raised different topics concerning human rights, health, public sector, refugees and asylum seekers, and system reform.

As a delegate with the Refugee Council, I pointed out at our fringe meeting and policy breakfast the need to reform the decision-making process for refugees and asylum seekers, especially at the borders. Moreover, we shed a light on the differences between refugees and asylum seekers on one side, and economic immigrants on the other.

Besides that, I raised many issues that relate to refugees and asylum seekers in general, and to Iraqi refugees in particular. I talked about my own experience of achieving integration and cohesion in UK society and its systems. The MPs and politicians we spoke to (including Phil Woolas, former immigration minister, and Chukka Umunna MP) showed high interest in listening to me as I reflected on the difficulties and challenges that face refugees and asylum seekers today.

But I found the main conference of the Labour Party quite special, as the party came under new leadership. Throughout Ed Miliband’s speech you could tell how wise he is! When I looked at him, I thought, if a young man who came from a refugee background could be in the position he is in now, so can I! All we need to do is to trust in ourselves and what we have got, then start to make actions that may lead to a victory!

In his speech, Mr Miliband covered many of the key issues like the Iraq war and the public spending cuts. He, who experienced a refugee life, has objected to stop the public funds, and cuts to jobs.

A highlight was when I got to shake hands with him. After that I got such a confidence to speak firmly. I do not know why, but he affected me and gave me a power to speak to the public and politicians about our issues.

I think he has many changes to bring to UK and to his party. Now, I think the Labour Party needs to intensify its efforts to ensure the asylum system is better, while they are in opposition. As the government is about to review the asylum system to make it better, the Labour Party must urge it to continue in this positive state.

They need to give asylum seekers more time to talk about their tough experiences during the screening process. Asylum seekers need to get early access to legal advice to ensure they get the protection they deserve. And importantly, they must put an end to any inhumane policies such as the detention of children in immigration centres across UK, and stop the deportation of asylum seekers who came from unsafe zones.