By Jonathan, Policy and Development Team
Just back from Brighton where we held our fringe event on Wednesday together with the Red Cross and the Still Human Still Here campaign coalition.
We were keen to use the event to explore the argument of whether asylum policy was damaging community cohesion, and we were delighted that the Minister at the Communities and Local Government (CLG) department with responsibility for community cohesion, Shahid Malik MP, was able to join us and make a speech.
As ever with these events, and with it being the last night of conference, we wondered would delegates show up. But our worries soon vanished as people started to appear and by the start of the meeting it was standing room only – our session seemed to have caught delegates’ imagination!
Donna, our chief executive, was able to make a number of strong points about how the positive community cohesion policies from CLG were being undermined by the current asylum policy.
She pointed to asylum seekers not being able to work when work is such a crucial factor in community cohesion. She stressed the importance of English Language and how asylum seekers were blocked from accessing language training for the first six months. She also questioned how the practice of granting just five year leave to stay as a refugee and the use of ‘administrative’ detention could ever help to build community cohesion. She also emphasised the role of refugee community organisations in community cohesion but how they were struggling financially in part due to earlier government statements on so-called ‘single interest group’ funding.
Donna was followed by strong speeches by Nick Scott Flynn and Eric Nkundumumbano from the Red Cross who spoke eloquently about his own experiences seeking asylum and now helping others as a volunteer with the Red Cross. He highlighted in particular the cases he sees of people who have had their claims refused and are forced into destitution. A vigorous discussion ensued, we got a great response and our idea of using CLG community cohesion policy to measure asylum policy did seem to resonate with the audience …. And now next stop Manchester!