The following piece is by guest blogger Asli, from Women Asylum Seekers Together (WAST) Manchester. Here Asli explains her experiences at the Labour Party Conference 2012.
This was the first time I attended a political party conference. All these people, so many suits and suitcases, not an environment I’m used to!
I saw a lot of famous people: I rubbed shoulders with Ed Miliband, Harriet Harman, Ed Balls, Chris Bryant, Paul Kenyon from the BBC, John Prescott and Chukka Umunna. We saw the end of Ed Miliband’s speech on the Tuesday.
I met with Anna from the Refugee Council and we went to a few fringe events. We attended the Liberty event and I was pleased that one MP’s researcher asked a question about whether they think human rights are abused in the UK, and about making the asylum system more compassionate. But I was disappointed that none of the MPs on the panel (Emily Thornberry, Sadiq Khan, Keith Vaz) answered the question.
We went to the fringe event for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Migration and it was good to hear Chris Bryant MP emphasising the importance of protecting refugees. He said: “Foreigners are humans”. I was surprised to hear that from a shadow immigration minister.
I was a speaker at the Refugee Council fringe event No Fate Like Home: why refused asylum seekers do not return. Also speaking on the panel was Chris Bryant MP, Paul Kenyon from BBC Panorama, as well as Mike Kaye from Still Human Still Here. I was really pleased when Chris Bryant said there was no evidence that asylum seekers come here for benefits, and we should be proud Britain protects people from persecution.
I talked about the reality for asylum seekers, when decisions are wrongly made by UKBA, especially people who can’t go back to their countries. I talked about how it is difficult for them living in limbo for several years. I gave an example of when a woman is made destitute she could end up in exploitation by friends, or end up in a violent relationship, even end up in prostitution just for a few pounds to feed herself. It’s more tough for a woman than a man.
I talked about Women Asylum Seekers Together, the organisation I volunteer for, and explained what we do in WAST, that we are open to anyone going through the asylum system in Manchester. I also explained most of our members are destitute and at the end of the asylum process, sofa-surfing with friends, supported by local charities. I understand how it is, because I have been in that situation myself. I can be sympathetic to them.
There was a question and answer session from those who attended the event. One really good question was whether £5 a day was enough for asylum seekers to live on. Chris Bryant wouldn’t commit to changing any policies that will stop people from coming destitute, neither would he acknowledge that £5 a day was too little for anyone to live on.
There was a doctor from Freedom From Torture in the audience who asked how the Labour government would improve UKBA’s decision-making process. Chris Bryant did commit to improving decision making on asylum claims so that decisions are right first time. We also liked the doctor’s suggestion that Freedom From Torture trains UKBA caseworkers in looking for evidence of torture.
Overall, it was a really great experience. Its good to remind people that destitution for asylum seekers is a situation going on all the time: people might know about the situation, but forget it is a reality for many people, going on every day.