by Rabia Nasimi
Last week, the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association hosted ‘Refugees and UK Parliament’ at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. This event was held as part of UK Parliament Week, an annual series of seminars held in conjunction with local MP’s. The objective of these seminars is to inspire the general public’s interest in parliament, politics, and democracy.
You might remember the name of the ACAA from the Michaelmas print edition of the Cavendish Chronicle, which featured my personal journey to Cambridge University (From Refugee to PhD). I am deeply involved in the organisation, and I was privileged to be given the opportunity of chairing after it was suggested to me that I always plan events and then take the back seat, rather than being in the spotlight. It was my first experience chairing an event, and it definitely took some courage to start off in Parliament rather than with a smaller, more local meeting!
For an organisation such as the ACAA, who strive to build better futures for refugees, UK Parliament Week was the perfect platform for integrating the sociological aspect of ‘refugees’ with the policies that these communities face upon arrival in the UK. Baroness Lister of Burtersett addressed the audience, explaining her work within the APPG and their role on challenging various policies within the House of Lords. One challenge has been the detention of pregnant refugees, which has still not been overturned by the current government.
Patrick Page, a caseworker in the pubic law team at Duncan Lewis Solicitors and an accomplished writer and researcher of refugee issues, expanded on Baroness Lister’s contribution regarding detention of refugees in the UK. He presented his examination of the inhumane and often unlawful policies and practices of the Home Office, and the effect this has concerning barriers to integration.
Next on our panel was Dr Elif Cetin, of Cambridge University, who discussed the refugee crisis in Europe and the responses of both the UK and EU governments to this humanitarian challenge, and the effect this has on the refugees coming from their homeland into the UK. Dr Cetin was followed by Dr Sara Silvestri, of Cambridge University, who discussed how the Catholic Church is addressing the needs and issues faced by both migrants and refugees alike. Finally, on issues of refugee support, Melanie Teff, of UNICEF, explained the campaign for better access to family reunion for children with family members in the UK, and the possible barrier of losing the Dublin Law when we leave the EU.
The event ended on a positive note, with the Founder and Director of ACAA, Dr Nasimi, explaining the importance and unquestionable success of his charity. He assured the participants that by empowering individuals through support and education, this in turn enriches the wider community and encourages integration rather than isolation.
What struck me most throughout our event was the audience participation within our Q&A sessions. One lady from the audience explained her refugee story, how she had come here as a child and attended the Saturday school at ACAA whilst her mother attended ESOL classes. She is now an active member of society, as is her mother, and is attending University. I saw a few members of the audience wipe a happy tear away!
The success of the event unquestionably demonstrated that to bring up the topic of refugees and the plight they face allows the public access to this knowledge; and with public knowledge comes the objective of change.
As a collective we can change policy. And that is something worth celebrating!
Below are a few words from our speakers:
“It was a real privilege to speak at ACAA’s Parliament Week discussion. At a time when urgent refugee issues are so often politicised, it was hugely refreshing to see academics, volunteers, professionals, and politicians coming together in a collaborative and constructive way. I came away inspired and with much to reflect on. Thank you ACAA!” – Patrick Page, Duncan Lewis Solicitors
“I am very pleased that I had the chance to participate in such a thought-provoking panel on “Refugees and UK Parliament”. Thanks, ACAA for organising it.” – Dr Cetin
The event was co-hosted by Vicky Foxcroft MP and Heidi Alexander MP. If you’d like to hold an event in Parliament, get in contact with your local MP to share your ideas. Chances are, they’ll agree!