Two Christian campaigners from Manchester have handed in a petition to 10 Downing Street at the close of the second week of their fortnight long protest camp in Parliament Square in London over the mistreatment of asylum seekers.
The petition is calling for change in UK policies that are making refused asylum seekers destitute. The protest camp has been taking place outside the Houses of Parliament.
The petition with the signatures of visitors to their camp calls for an end to the threat and use of destitution as a tool of Government policy against refused asylum seekers. This follows their meetings last Wednesday with their MPs to express concern about this issue.
One of the two, Ben Gibbs, met for an hour with Manchester Central MP Tony Lloyd and later his colleague Ben Gilchrist met Stretford and Urmston MP Beverley Hughes in the lobby of Parliament following Prime Minister’s Questions. They both also met with John Leech MP for Manchester Withington.
Mr Gibbs, from Moss Side in Manchester, commented: “It was really encouraging to discuss the issues in detail with Mr Lloyd my MP and we are proud of the support for the campaign we have gathered and given in on our petition at Number 10. We are deeply concerned about the destitution suffered by thousands of refused asylum seekers who are denied support or the right to work in the UK, but are unable to return to unsafe home countries. MPs need to know the extent of concern that ordinary people have about this situation and to be encouraged to speak up about this issue and work to change government policy.”
Neil Gerrard, MP for Walthamstow, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees and met with Ben and Ben to support their action, has circulated information on the protest to members of the group.
He has spoken out in support of the goals of the Still Human Still Here campaign, which the protest is in aid of, a coalition of refugee agencies, human rights organisations and church groups campaigning to end destitution for refused asylum seekers until they are granted leave to remain in the UK or can return home safely. Other MPs who have voiced their support for the campaign include Michael Connarty, Jim Cousins and Greg Mulholland.
Ben Gilchrist, from Old Trafford, says: “The policy of deliberate destitution is both inhumane and ineffective. Our aim has been to convince MPs of the need for policy changes to stop such destitution and meeting with Beverley Hughes and other MPs was a chance to express this message clearly. We want to help change minds in Westminster, and help raise awareness of this vital issue. The way that refused asylum seekers are being treated in this country is disgusting. Our government is basically trying to starve people into submission and force them out of the country when they're terrified of returning home.”
Web designer Ben Gibbs has set up a website, www.asylumstories.co.uk, to document the real-life stories of asylum seekers talking about their experiences of the system and a blog for the protest at http://asylumstories.co.uk/protest/.
This includes their experience of surviving on the contents of a Red Cross Food Parcel while protesting as refused asylum seekers get no food or money to buy food and often their only source of food are Destitution Projects facilitated through the goodwill and charity of faith and community groups working together with the British Red Cross who provide a basic food parcel each week.
The two Bens have been inspired in this by the Boaz Trust who work with Destitute Asylum Seekers in Manchester and have previously issued this action as an Endurance Challenge to encourage people to live the life of a refused asylum seeker for one week, in order to give people just a small insight into how these people experience poverty in the UK
Mr Gibbs declared: “Some of the stories I have heard from asylum seekers are deeply upsetting - people are desperate and some are profoundly depressed. It has certainly confirmed for me just why we are fighting this campaign: using destitution to starve people into returning to an unsafe home country is inhumane. It is to our shame that people are deliberately made hungry and homeless in a prosperous country like the UK. I was amazed at how dignified and good-humoured the people I met were, even in this abject poverty.”