WOKING DEBATES 2020

The speakers were Councillor Ayesha Azad, deputy leader of Woking Borough Council; Donovan Blair, whose parents came to the UK from Jamaica; Kayte Cable from The Big Leaf Foundation charity; and immigration solicitor Waleed Hassan. Cllr Azad opened the debate. She said she was a child immigrant, coming to the UK with her family. Her father was amazed by the generosity of the British people and she had found our society to be open, tolerant and dynamic. This country had a fair immigration system and sufficient resources to cope with numbers of people wanting to live here. Migration figures were rising year after year but people were treated fairly when they come into the country. The Ugandan Indians and the offer to Hong Kong residents were examples of our fairness. In Woking, there were 49 Syrian refugee families and Surrey County Council had taken in many unaccompanied minors. Donovan Blair’s parents came from Jamaica and he was born here. In Jamaica, they were a carpenter and teacher respectively. At, school they received a British education which included little about their home island. They felt it was their duty to come to Britain to help rebuild the country after the Second World War. When they arrived, they found they knew more about the country and it history than many British people. Finding work was no problem but finding somewhere to live was really difficult, as many places offering accommodation advertised No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs. Donovan’s father came here first and had to live in an Underground station for the first two months. It was a time of race riots and killings in Notting Hill. He found work in construction. Donovan’s parents instilled their values into him but he has never felt truly accepted in the UK. The Government had created a hostile environment and sanitised history. History is written by the conqueror and by the people that do the harm. Imagine being in a West African city insulted just for being white. Attitudes are improving, but there are complex issues to address. Kayte Cable set up her small charity in Woking and Guildford working with unaccompanied and trafficked children. She said child migrants were often escaping civil war and their journeys had been long and difficult. Aged 18 to 25, they can be living in foster care, hostels or supported care. The charity fills gaps in their provision. Children often have to wait to the next educational year to receive formal education. They might not be literate in English but they need English GCSE to progress. The charity tries to combat their social isolation, as it is difficult for them to build networks. They live in fear of the police, religious groups and the Home Office. Under the 1951 Refugee Convention, they cannot be sent back to an unsafe country but what is safe? The system is slow to process refugees and they are not allowed to work meanwhile until their asylum claim is accepted. They lack hope and many suffer from mental health issues. If their processing is delayed until they are 18 they will be treated as an adult ,when it is harder to be accepted by the system. Home Office interviews are often hostile. Interpreters are often not very good. Refugees can face unlimited detention. They should be allowed to work and contribute to society. Lack of money leaves them more vulnerable to criminals. Waleed Hassan said he smiled when he saw the title of the debate, as the country is so obviously unfair to some immigrants. The rules are discriminatory, and they should be fair to everyone. He has represented an African national who has been refused entry three times, while a Canadian does not even need a visa to come to the UK. The Home Office has a culture of disbelief towards refugees. They do not believe a person who is a homosexual facing persecution or a person who has changed their religion. A husband has to earn £18,600 to bring their partner over. On the COVID pandemic, some of the young people have no idea what was going on, as
Kayte Cable took part from her holiday home in rural Wales. Councillor Ayesha Azad came to the UK with her parents.
Donovan Blair was born in the UK, of parents who came here from Jamaica. Waleed Hassan says the UK immigration rules are discriminatory
they had nothing about it in their own language, or the material that was in their language was at too high a level of literacy to be useful. Waleed believes that politicians are using immigrants as scapegoats. The Grenfell Tower and Windrush scandals showed this clearly. Education is crucial. The Life in the UK test has many historical questions that most British citizens would struggle to answer. Settled status was created to clear the backlog of cases. This needs to be an automatic process without the need to prove that a person has lived here, as often they have not the documentation to prove it. The Government issues a link to prove a person has the right to remain in this country, but many people do not recognise this. Employers will be fined £20,000 for each case and landlords can be fined £3000. Ayesha told us this is the same way that other EU countries operate. Young people especially live under fear and rumours. Their fear of the police is based on their experience of other countries. There is a rumour that the police have a dart that they fire at the back of the neck to change your thoughts and that COVID does not exist but is an Israeli plot, or that lemon juice in your eyes, or prayer, will cure you of COVID,. Ann-Marie Barker, a Woking Liberal Democrat councillor, asked what was the most significant policy change the Government could make that could improve this situation. Ayesha went for changing the system so asylum seekers are able to work. Waleed for changing the points-based immigration system so it is the same for all nationalities, Donovan thought we need a cohesive solution that is defendable and nonpolitical. Learning English is important, but some refugees are so scarred by their experiences they need to heal before they can learn. None of the panel thought they should pay to learn English, as they will contribute in their taxes when they start earning. Immigrants already have to pay £3,000 to apply to come to the UK and need to contribute to access the NHS. For a family this can come to £30,000 over five years. The Woking MP, Jonathan Lord, was present and assured us he would take the views expressed on board.