Image copyright Emile Holba, Citizens UK
Monday 4th May saw 30 members of The Forum join 2,200 other citizens from across the UK for Citizens UK’s 2015 General Election Assembly. The Forum has been an active member of Citizens UK since its West London chapter launched ten years ago. Five years ago we saw the three party leaders make a public commitment to end the detention of children at similar pre-election Assembly – a change we lobbied for, won and saw enshrined in law in 2014.
So we know this type of people politics works – but it only works if people are organised on the ground. This year, we supported 22 community leaders from different communities to listen to their members’ interests, to support them to register to vote and to work with them to raise their issues and agendas with prospective parliamentary candidates. Collectively, they engaged over 1,500 people in actions and hustings in the run up to the General Election, and registered around 1,500 people to vote. You can watch videos community leaders made to encourage their members to vote here.
A core issue for The Forum’s members was immigration detention, and the number of people held indefinitely in prison-like conditions.
Two of The Forum’s members shared their experiences of immigration detention on stage in front of Secretary of State and Conservative MP Sajid Javid, who had been sent in place of the Prime Minister, David Cameron. They were supported by 10 members of The Forum who had also experienced immigration detention, as well as others who knew people in detention or whose communities were affected, who held lanterns on stage to symbolise the light The Forum and Citizens UK’s work was shining in these dark places.
The Forum’s members Penny Keza and Bamidele Hassan both spoke powerfully about their experiences of immigration detention, providing compelling reasons why it is ‘time for a time limit’.
Community organising groups across the UK have spent 18 months working out four commitments they seek from party leaders – this time on ending indefinite detention of asylum seekers, paying the living wage, improving social care, and using 1% of banking fines to start a credit union foundation.
Any leader who fails to sign up to them is interrogated on that failure, live on stage, in fairly exquisite style. For instance, it’s quite possible Javid thought he’d got away with it after telling the story of his immigrant parents’ struggles with poverty and racist employment policies and attributing their victories over them to the power of community. But he hadn’t bargained on one of the organisers thanking him for his story, explaining she was a Bosnian refugee who’d slept with acid by her bed to stop her attackers raping her, and pointing out that there is no community for asylum seekers who have just arrived.
Further things Cameron passed up – other than the chance to tell his own riches-to-riches story to the people who vacuum his office at 4am? He didn’t get to hear an asylum seeker who had been indefinitely detained detail his descent into mental and physical illness. “I was taken to hospital and chained to the bed like a dog. People took photos on their phones.” He was followed by a victim of human trafficking whose indefinite detention led to psychotic episodes and a suicide attempt.
Who was in turn followed by Javid declining to end indefinite detention. “I think I’ve made it clear we don’t support a time limit full stop … A time limit would only encourage people …”.
Image copyright Agnieszka Mazur
The Forum’s Executive Director, Zrinka Bralo was on stage to turn this negative answer to a positive. As The Economist described, “Ms Bralo did not give Mr Javid an easy ride, interrogating him as deftly and assertively as any television news anchor”– in the end securing a commitment to provide what help he could to start conversations with the Conservative party about introducing a time limit introduce Citizens UK.
Image copyright Jack Williams
Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband went on to commit to working with Citizens UK to end indefinite detention altogether.
We are so proud of all our members who took part in the Citizens UK General Election Assembly and actions in the run up to the General Election – making this the year that migrant votes and migrant voices matter.