Linking peace issues with seekers of sanctuary

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ld4sos-bannerThe National Friends Peace Board celebrated its 100 years anniversary last year at the Friends Meeting House in York.  They had a walk, linking two issues, between Richmond Castle where the Friends had stood up for the treatment of Conscientious Objectors during the First World War, to more modern matters, the role of the US base at Menwith Hill in spreading militarism around the world.  As they say on their website, “One thing we know from having delved into our history, and of course from our own lives and experiences, is that peace work isn’t always easy. We can find ourselves swimming against the tide, struggling to find unity ourselves at times and, if we’re not careful, worn out and weary.

As we all know, people flee from their own countries, seeking sanctuary, because they are fleeing from war and terror.  Our asylum seekers are only here because of such flights.  If we had genuine peace in our world, there would be no need to flee.

Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary began at Spring Conference 2 years ago, when Janet King, Philip Latham, and myself decided we needed an organisation to stand up for those seeking sanctuary in the UK, and one of our aims was to work to formulate new party policy.

We have come a long way since then, and are now a membership based organisation that has AO status within the party, and a governing council of 11 committed people.

One of the strands of our work has been the working group to formulate Liberal Democrat Policy on asylum issues, as well as immigration and social cohesion.  I have represented LD4SOS on this working group, and over 9 months have done my best to get into the policy paper policies that are reflecting our aim of treating asylum seekers with compassion, humanity and dignity.  Not every word in the policy paper or the motion is necessarily as we would have chosen, but we are proud to have some radical and key policies included.  These include :

  • An end to the disgraceful practice of Indefinite Detention for immigration purposes.
  • An end to the inappropriate use of the notorious “Detained Fast Track” process.
  • The end to child detention to be put into legislation.
  • ‘getting it right first time’, on decision making.
  • re-establish the 6 month decision-making target for asylum claims.
  • Better training for Home Office staff who deal directly with more vulnerable groups.
  • Better interpretation and translation services to be available at each stage of the process.
  • Accurate, up-to-date understanding of relevant Country of Origin Information must be  provided to decision makers.
  • All working age asylum seekers to be required to look for work if their case has not been resolved within 6 months.  Current restrictions on which occupations asylum seekers can work in to be lifted.
  • abolish the Azure Card and Section 4 and provide all asylum support under Section 95 which will be uprated in the same way as other benefits.
  • outsourced contracts for the delivery of enforcement  and asylum services must be monitored more effectively, with more accountability and transparency in their work.
  • Deportation, transportation and the accountability of enforcement functions to be transferred to the public sector as soon as the current contracts permit.

As well as a fringe meeting on the Saturday lunch time in the Hilton Library Suite (Asylum: Achievements, Aspirations and Actions) we are holding a fringe meeting on the Friday evening, where as well as listening to speakers, there will be the opportunity to discuss the policy paper.  The meeting is at 7.45 for 8.00 p.m.  Where ? where better than the Friends Meeting House on Friargate!

 

* 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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