By Jonathan, Campaigns and Public Affairs Team
The party conference season is over, and it has been successful for the Refugee Council – raising our profile with politicians from all the main parties, engaging with the key Ministers and Spokespeople, and alerting activists to our campaigns.
This week we joined the Conservatives for their conference in Birmingham. The work started early on Monday morning, with a Policy Breakfast with Damian Green MP, the Conservative Immigration Spokesman. The private breakfast looked at ways that an incoming Conservative might release the economic potential of asylum seekers and refugees.
Later in the week we held a fringe meeting with the Centre for Social Justice entitled ‘Destitution: an asylum seeker’s reality?’. The meeting was chaired by former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith MP, and featured our Chief Executive, Donna Covey on the panel. A volunteer in our Birmingham office, Ellen from Zimbabwe, talked about her experiences of the asylum system.
Over 60 people turned up for the meeting, including a good number of Conservative activists.
Iain Duncan Smith was strongly critical of the Government’s policy of making refused asylum seekers destitute:
“We should, as politicians, recognise that it is unacceptable to treat human capital in this way. We have a proud history of protecting asylum seeker in this country, and we should continue to do so.”
“My experience with the Immigration Authorities has been traumatic. There is a culture of disbelief in the Home Office. As an asylum seeker, they treat me like a person who just decided to come to the UK to have an easy life or a holiday in the UK. I had a family, a house, a job that could sustain me and my family, but now I am now reduced to a beggar.
I am a professional, but in the UK, a developed country which is known worldwide for fighting, advocating and demanding that human rights be upheld, I have no status and I am not allowed to work. As you can imagine, being prevented from working is humiliating for me.”
Many of the activists left visibly moved by Ellen’s testimony and promised to bring the issues of destitution and work to the attention of their MPs when they got home.