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Council leader Peter Chowney speaks to the Lift the Ban motion at the full council meeting.

Council leader Peter Chowney speaks to the Lift the Ban motion at the full council meeting.

Pro refugee campaigns backed by HBC and the public

Hastings Borough Council has signed up to the Lift the Ban campaign to allow asylum-seekers to work after six months if their asylum claim is still undecided. Meanwhile the fifth annual Refugee Tales event took place this month with ample public support and the presence of several Labour councillors. Nick Terdre reports.

The decision to support the Lift the Ban campaign was taken at a meeting of the full council last week. The motion was proposed by council leader Peter Chowney who reported that Hastings has now exceeded its quota of taking 100 refugees agreed with the government – the number is now up to around 105.

Cllr Chowney was at pains to point out how well Hastings had responded to the call to house refugees arriving under the Syrian Resettlement Programme (SRP) – many other local authorities were only willing to house 40 and he thought none of them had actually reached their target. The Home Office wants to know why Hastings has done so well, he said – much of the credit should go to the Buddy project run by Rossana Leal, which trains willing residents to befriend and support refugee families.

While refugees welcomed under the SRP already have the right to stay and work, those seeking asylum do not. At present asylum-seekers waiting for their claim to be decided – about 100 have been sent to Hastings under the government’s dispersal programme – have to live on a daily allowance of £5.39 and are only allowed to work if they are still waiting after 12 months. Even then they can only be employed in one of the few occupations on the government’s Shortage Occupation List.

ESCC urged to join in

In addition to committing the council to join the Lift the Ban coalition which is campaigning for the waiting period to be reduced to six months, the motion also called on East Sussex County Council to join the coalition and on the government to scrap the Shortage Occupation List. It cited a potential economic gain for the UK of £42.4 million (presumably on an annual basis) accruing from taxes on working refugees and savings on accommodation and subsistence support.

The motion was supported by Labour councillors and the one independent, Cllr Dany Louise, but opposed by Tory councillors.

Felicity Laurence and Right Revd Richard Jackson, Bishop of Lewes, take a break from walking.

Felicity Laurence, chair of Hastings Community of Sanctuary, and Rt Revd Richard Jackson, Bishop of Lewes, take a break from walking.

Earlier in the month the annual Refugee Tales event ended with a packed-out finale at the Kino-Teatr in St Leonards, This followed a five-day walk from Brighton involving, in the organisers’ words, “story-telling, laughter and occasionally tears…More than 150 people joined each day in friendship and solidarity with guest walkers who have experienced indefinite immigration detention.”

Refugee Tales, now in its fifth year, is intended to offer solidarity and support to asylum-seekers who are suffering, or have suffered, immigration detention, always for indefinite periods. The UK is the only country in Europe that has no time limit to immigration detention, and while most detainees are released in less than two months, some are held for lengthy periods – in 2018, according to the Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees (Avid), 225 had been held for more than a year and 13 for more than two years.

Joys of walking and talking

The event draws inspiration from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, in which the pilgrims entertain themselves on their journey by sharing stories. “Walking and talking is a powerful way to explore and reflect upon the thoughts and experience of our fellows, and a context in which those among us who have experienced the unimaginable trauma of indefinite detention can feel comfortable telling others what that is really like for any human spirit,” said Felicity Laurence, chair of Hastings Community of Sanctuary, who joined the final two days.

Labour councillors Maya Evans, Antonia Berelson and Paul Barnett took part in the final leg, and were joined at the Kino by council leader Peter Chowney and Mayor Nigel Sinden.

Cllr Antonia Berelson walks with refugee N, who told his tale of indefinite detention during the session at Kino-Teatr.

Cllr Antonia Berelson walks with refugee N, who told his tale of indefinite detention during the session at Kino-Teatr.

The host for the evening at the Kino-Teatr, novelist Kamila Shamsie, led the audience through two very moving tales, one read aloud by a young man known as ‘N’ about “his own experience of incarceration and official hostility from the moment he arrived on our shores: his desperation, his disbelief that instead of kindness and understanding of the situation that had brought him to flee his country, he was treated with harsh scepticism, and locked up with neither explanation nor time limit.”

There was also an unexpected personal contribution by Canadian poet Stephen Collis, while award-winning folk duo Greg Russell and Ciaran Altar had the entire audience dancing in the aisles.

A campaign to end indefinite detention is under way – in May a 100,000-strong petition was handed in to the government. Alongside the Lift the Ban campaign, it is one of three major campaigns aiming at reforming the UK government’s immigration policy, the other targeting family reunification.

The walk passes Birling Gap.

The walk passes Birling Gap (photo: Refugee Tales).

The third book of Refugee Tales, which contains all the stories told during this year’s walk, has just been published by Comma Press.


The article was amended by Nick Terdre on 1 August 2019.


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Posted 19:00 Wednesday, Jul 31, 2019 In: Campaigns

1 Comment

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  1. Paul Burns

    Asylum seekers have often experienced or witnessed extreme events that impact on their mental health. Being unemployed / dependent on meagre handouts / unable to provide for family and the isolation and lack of structure that can accompany being jobless often aggravates symptoms such as depression, anxiety, flashbacks and nightmares.

    Between 2000 and 2007, I worked with survivors of torture, all of whom had arrived in the UK as asylum seekers. Some had landed before restrictions were placed on paid work. It was clear to me that those able to work did much better than those denied such opportunities.

    Comment by Paul Burns — Wednesday, Jul 31, 2019 @ 23:15

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