For months now I have felt unable to write about the challenges we are encountering in our day to day work at the Forum. And it is not only because I don’t have time or because too many things are happening in the policy arena and it is hard to make sense of it all. It is not only because the reality is grim and rather depressing and I am refusing to give into it. I recently realised that I feel silenced by my own anger. I decided to try to be constructive with that anger and move to the blogosphere. So let me tell you about last week…
The week started with a demonstration and parliamentary meeting on family visa changes that came into effect on Monday. (You can find out more about changes to family migration from Calynn’s brilliant posts.) As I was shouting slogans at the Home Office building during the demo, I had rather depressing sense of déjà vu. And later at the Grand Committee Room in the Commons it felt like 1994 again. I was in the same room, with same colleagues, same MPs and the same story – the rights being taken away not only from hard working migrants who keep this country going, but also from hard working Brits.
On Tuesday, I was told that I will be ‘given’ a discount to enter a one-day conference on integration in Brussels for meagre 195 Euros. If I want to schmooze with the good and the great of EU politics and inform them about the reality of integration in London, I also need to pay for my Eurostar and hotel accommodation. I am bombarded on the daily basis with these invites to attend conferences at the cost of £150 to £700 per day , plus VAT of course. There is a whole industry out there preventing me from accessing policy makers and power brokers. If you are poor, you can’t even get your foot in the door. As a constructive outlet for my anger about being excluded from places where people with money schmooze and make decisions about my life and work, I created a label in my inbox called ‘crazy expensive conferences’. This week I was told of 15 conferences I will not be attending from Big Society and Social Justice to Social Housing, Meet the Funders and Legal Service. The total cost of access to ministers, MPs and other people in power that I will not be meeting this week is £1,818 (+VAT). I’ll keep you posted about the future ‘offers’ and people I won’t be meeting.
Wednesday was tough because it was the anniversary of Srebrenica genocide. This year 520 victims were buried 17 years after they were executed while the world watched. In addition, the genocide trial of Ratko Mladic, which only started again this week, was broken off as he claimed he was ill. For people like me, survivors of war and exile, there are these days when on the outside we function and get on with things around us, but on the inside we are being transported to another time, another place and another pain.
Thursday I went to Oxford to meet with my fellow Voices of Courage Award honouree who supports refugees in South Africa, as we compared the notes about our challenges in supporting people who need protection the news broke that G4S Olympic security crisis. Yes, the same G4S that was in charge of deportations, immigration detention centres and prisons. The same G4S that was deporting a 46-year-old Angolan asylum seeker who died after being restrained by the guards who were deporting him on a British Airways flight from Heathrow in October 2010.
[h4]When the time comes for public inquiry into this fiasco I hope someone will ask the responsible minister–WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?[/h4]
Friday looked promising as Fridays usually do until we heard from one of our users. A single mom who recently gave birth, and who is living on Section 4 support – and therefore entitled to medical care – was sent away from the hospital in East London in tears after she was interrogated by the NHS Overseas Compliance Officer who told her she must pay for the blood test for her prematurely born baby. He told her that even if they do the blood test, they won’t give her the result until she pays.
I wondered what sort of training one has to attend to learn how to tell vulnerable women things like that about their ill babies and reduced them to tears. I wish I had £245 +VAT to go to that conference about Big Society and Social Justice to ask them.