Last week, I wrote about the events I’d attended to mark World Refugee Week. More have happened since. Last Friday, I joined campaigners in Piccadilly Gardens to support the Welcome Not Walls campaign. A temporary wall was erected for passersby to write messages of support, and free ice cream was on offer from Ben and Jerrys, who have been great supporters of campaigns for asylum seekers’ and refugees’ rights.
The main ask of Welcome Not Walls is that asylum seekers should have the right to work while they wait for a decision on their case (currently most are banned from doing so). Many are highly qualified and skilled, and could help fill labour shortages in hard pressed sectors like hospitality and healthcare. Working would mean they’d be able to support themselves rather than rely on the (miserably mean) asylum support provided by the state. It would be good for their mental health, and help them integrate.
Nearly everyone can see the sense of this – except the government. But the ‘Lift the Ban’ campaigners won’t be giving up. Indeed, they held another event in London this Tuesday, when I was very pleased to join businesses like Starbucks, Virgin, and Ben and Jerry’s (again) who all support the campaign. It’s good to have such a broad base of support.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, I attended a briefing on the lack of access to legal advice for those applying for asylum, and heard really harrowing stories of people stuck in the system for years, while solicitors and the Home Office ignore their letters and calls. I’ve seen this for myself in my own MP surgeries, but even I was shocked at the stories we were told.
I’ve also met the Health minister this week, along with charity Maternity Action and the Royal College of Midwives, to discuss access to maternity care for pregnant asylum-seeking women. These women often have very complex pregnancies, with higher risk for their health and that of their babies (some of the women affected have suffered domestic or sexual abuse, or are victims of female genital mutilation, and need specialist care). But some hospitals ask them to pay upfront before they’ll start treatment, which means many women don’t get care at all. Even those who do receive treatment can end up thousands of pounds in debt, causing them huge stress about how they’ll pay it back, when their wellbeing and care of their new baby should be the priority. I was encouraged that the minister took our concerns very seriously and promised to follow them up.
Much more happily, it was really good to join parishioners at St Ann’s in Stretford on Sunday to meet two more Syrian refugee families who’ve come to live in our community, and are being welcomed by church members. This was a lovely, friendly event, and it was great to see everyone enjoying themselves, including our new Syrian neighbours.
It hasn’t just been asylum-related events that have kept me busy this week. Constituents and constituency activities have involved me in a range of events. On Saturday, I attended two school summer fairs, one at Seymour Park to mark headteacher Mr Rea’s forthcoming retirement (he will be very much missed), and one at Victoria Park Juniors.
On Wednesday, I met constituents attending two different parliamentary lobbies, one group who’d come to Westminster to speak to me about the vitally important climate challenge we face, and the other my friends from Women in Prison, who wanted to talk to me about more resources for Women’s centres. They’re a much more cost effective solution than prison for women offenders, and I was able to pass their concerns straight on to the minister when I met him later in the afternoon.
It was a real pleasure to get along to Flixton Girls School on Monday morning for the launch of National School Sports week. Some very ingenious exercises had been devised to get younger children moving and learning at the same time, and having a great deal of fun.
I was very pleased welcome a group of Women of Faith from Faith Network 4 Manchester to parliament on Tuesday. It’s always great to have visitors from home.
And I was honoured and proud to take messages of solidarity from my constituents to Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe, who’s been imprisoned in Iran, separated from her little daughter, in a deeply troubling and unjust case. Nazanin is on hunger strike in prison, and Richard has begun his own hunger strike outside the Iranian embassy in London in support. The barbaric treatment of this young family is shocking, and if you’d like to know more or sign the petition calling on the Iranian government to free Nazanin, please visit https://www.change.org/p/free-nazanin-ratcliffe
While all these activities have kept me out and about, I’ve still had time to get into the chamber and committees to ask questions about looked after children, school exam papers, Islamophobia, and penalties for MPs who breach parliament’s code of conduct.
So constituency events, supporting campaigners, asking questions of ministers, and attending briefings and meetings. It’s been a typical week in the life of an MP – and an absolute privilege to have the chance to be involved in so many different activities.