I am going to write about 3 people who sought sanctuary in the UK. All people I know well.
K came here, fleeing from the terror on Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. She is a strong determined person, passionate about democracy, and held a good responsible job in administration and had children. She fled here, in fear of her life, leaving job and family behind. She has not been given permission to stay here, but as we all must know by now, Zimbabwe is not a safe place to return to. So she had no job, no benefits, and no home. She does voluntary work, but has to live on the charity and goodwill of others, and does not know if she will ever see her children again. Surely the least we can do in our country is to allow her to use her considerable skills and enthusiasm to be able to work to support herself ?
P came here, fleeing from Kabila, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He had 2 university degrees, was a high ranking civil servant, had a nice home, a wife who worked in public services, and children who went to school. Here his story was not believed, and he was refused asylum, so he was working on getting more evidence to prove his case, and offered his skills as a voluntary worker. He had no money to live on, no home, and lived in constant fear of being removed. He came to live with us for a while and we got to know him and his story well. However he was tricked into meeting with UKBA officials, was arrested, and taken back to DRC. There he was beaten. He lives in constant fear of reprisals and arrest. He has no identity so he and his wife cannot work, they live in poverty and he is so grieved that his children cannot go to school. Despite proof well documented about returns to DRC in “Unsafe Return”, our country still thinks it is safe to return asylum seekers there. We are still in touch with him and know it is not.
C was a lady with 2 children who was seeking sanctuary in the US as she was being persecuted in her home country for being a Christian. I was given the opportunity to take a family with me to see a performance of an ice panto at a local theatre. I took her and her children and we had a wonderful time. However when we were about to leave, she suddenly panicked and hid behind a column in the foyer. She was shaking and sobbing. This was because she had seen one of the official from the theatre in a uniform, that looked like the police uniform of her native country. It took quite a while to reassure her that she was safe with me. The story has a happy ending in that she now does have permission to stay here, in safety. However, her behaviour on the sight of the uniformed person – surely that would give Home Office officials reason to suspect she should be arrested as a possible “illegal immigrant”, and it illustrates how frightened those genuinely seeking sanctuary with us can be.
These 3 stories are just three, from a multitude of others that I and others could tell. They led to the inspiration behind setting up Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary (LD4SOS). At our fringe meeting at the Glasgow conference you will have the chance to listen to the voices of some asylum seekers, as well as hear from Gary Christie, Head of Policy and Communications, Scottish Refugee Council, and Lord Roger Roberts. The meeting is on the Monday 16th from 1 till 2, with a free buffet, at the India Quay Restaurant. Unfortunately this is on the first floor and there is no lift, but it is right opposite the conference centre, and we will do our best to arrange for anyone who cannot make the stairs to meet with some of the asylum seekers where it is more accessible.
Also we have our first AGM, on Sunday 15th, from 1 till 2, with Tony Greaves addressing us, and hopefully time to discuss the way forward as well as the formal AGM. There is also, of course, the consultation document on “Immigration, Asylum and Identity”, and the consultation session at 10.00 on the Saturday morning in Argyll 1 in the Crowne Plaza. Views are welcome on this in writing if you cannot attend.
* 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.