Joelle, a young woman from the DRC, attended the Liberal Democrat party conference last week for the Refugee Council. As part of the Refugee Empowerment Project she is campaigning to abolish the Azure payment card for refused asylum seekers. Read her thoughts on her first party conference and how she used her speech at the Refugee Council fringe to urge Lib Dem activists to support her campaign.
Such a great opportunity, being for the first time in my entire life among famous people!
The Lib Dem Conference was inspiring for me because, initially I thought that everything going on there would only be political; yes in a sense because all decisions or policies… are made by politicians I think! But seeing the ASDA exhibition stand and the other firms promoting their products, made me see the event like a place where I could get my voice heard.
I started my day with a lovely breakfast in a friendly atmosphere chatting with Baroness Williams and Baroness Hamwee about the different issues affecting refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. I told them about the azure card, a payment card for all asylum seekers who have had their asylum claims refused, and have no other way of supporting themselves. Baroness Williams seemed shocked and was taking notes and took a copy of my briefing. Mike who coordinates the coalition Still Human Still Here, Roland Schilling, the UNHCR Representative to the UK and Gary from the Scottish Refugee Council were also there raising awareness of the issues facing refugees and asylum seekers (not only in UK but internationally as well), as well as Donna Covey, Jonathan and Penny from the Refugee Council.
As I am fighting to see the azure payment card scrapped for all refused asylum seekers and replaced with cash, I thought of grabbing the opportunity by visiting the ASDA stand because they are one of the supermarkets selected by the Home Office that accept the azure card. My visit was successful in a sense because although nobody there had any knowledge about the payment card, I exchanged contact details with one of their public affairs agents so that we can help each other to solve the azure card problem.
I spent the lunchtime at the Guardian debate. I was disappointed that no one talked about the really difficult issues facing refugees and asylum seekers. But we did get a great free lunch!
And finally, it was time for our fringe meeting at 8pm. I was the last speaker after Donna Covey, Refugee Council Chief Executive, Roland Schilling, and Dr Julian Huppert MP, Home Affairs Select Committee who was the Chair of our meeting. Our theme was 60 years on: A time for political leadership on refugee protection. I spoke about Peter, a former lawyer from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who had his asylum claim rejected and now finds himself forced to live on the azure card. He has felt humiliated several times at the supermarkets and has suffered hunger when money was deducted from his card in error. He has been unable to meet his solicitor and doctor because he does not have money to pay for transportation.
The feedback after my speech was positive; the Lib Dem activists were supportive and willing to help with the campaign against the azure payment card. We all want people to live with dignity but the azure card takes away that dignity. We all want this inhuman system to end.
Joelle will be speaking at the Refugee Council, UNHCR and Still Human Still Here fringe event at the Conservative party conference next week – watch this space to find out what she makes of it.
Joelle is a guest blogger for the RC. The views expressed in this blog are hers and not necessarily those of the Refugee Council