Sanctuary in Parliament

iving a voice to those with no voice that anyone in a position of power will listen to, is surely one of the key things we believe in as Liberal Democrats.

There was the opportunity for just this at Sanctuary in Parliament last week.

Asylum seekers and refugees from throughout the country were able to go to Parliament to meet with their MPs, and tell them of the impact on their lives of living in poverty, or being destitute, and not having the right to work.

I had gone, with a non-political hat, with a team from Tees Valley, including 2 people seeking asylum who are awaiting decisions, one asylum seeker who is destitute, 2 refugees.

The MPs had been invited to attend beforehand, and with a fair bit of chasing up nearly all of those from Tees Valley did.

Also four Lib Dem Peers, Brian Paddick, Roger Roberts (and his researcher Helen Byrne), Sally Hamwee and Shas Sheehan came along, and we met Sal Brinton there too.  Ed Davey sent his caseworker as he was unable to attend himself, and Layla Moran’s researcher came as she was unwell.

One of our delegates spoke from the platform with a very moving and beautifully delivered speech.  All met with the parliamentarians, and told their stories, specifically relating to the theme, and generally got involved.

We must not underestimate how difficult it can be for them to relive some of their awful experiences, both in the country they fled from, and here in the UK, when they tell their story.  It can be humiliating to have to say out loud what impact poverty has on your life, and worse to tell of destitution where you only survive because of the kindness of others.  It is frustrating to express what it is like not to be able to work.

I especially admired the courage they had in talking about problems of period poverty, something so many women have difficulty with, but a greater impact on those with such little income.  Layla Moran changed the speech she was giving the next day in a debate in Westminster Hall, because of what she heard.

We also talked to the Parliamentarians about the problems of shared rooms in Stockton and Middlesbrough, and met some people from Sheffield where their council policy has now ended forced sharing of bedrooms.

It was a great day, with those who usually have no voice, and nobody with any influence to listen to them. Hopefully they were listened to.  All those who came and listened and promised action will be followed up by local City of Sanctuary Groups.  We are in difficult times with such negative perceptions of anyone who originates from “elsewhere”, a determination to make life for them as difficult as possible, and to ensure a hostile environment.

Liberal Democrats have policies to combat the problems raised.  We believe in the Right to Work, ending destitution, and raising levels of income for those seeking asylum.  Making Migration Work for Britain, section 7, spells these out in detail, and the LD4SOS mini manifesto here gives the condensed version.

The theme of the day was Dignity not Destitution.

That is what Liberal Democrats have pledged to do, too.

* Suzanne Fletcher was a councillor for nearly 30 years and a voluntary advice worker with the CAB for 40 years. Now retired, she is active as a campaigner in the community both as a Lib Dem and with local organisations. She is Liberal Democrat Seekers of Sanctuary's parliamentary and external relations officer.

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