Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Refugees and asylum seekers

A little while ago Refugee Action, a charity which helps refugees and asylum seekers, held a briefing for councillors and others interested in issues of asylum and refugees in Liverpool. It clashed with one of the Executive Member meetings so I couldn't go. I am very interested in this topic though so was really pleased that one of the staff of Refugee Action was prepared to come along and talk to me separately about the work they did. We met on Friday and it was good to get an update on the situation as it relates to Liverpool.

I ought to say that I have some knowledge about this as one of my earlier jobs was as press officer for the Refugee Council - a national charity representig Refugees and Asylum seekers and providing a range of services. Being the press officer was not easy. In fact at times it felt like being under siege. There is nothing certain newspapers love more than having a go at asylum seekers.

And that's why I was so angry when I opened the Guardian today to read the interview with Labour minister Phil Woolas. His negative attitude to asylum seekers frankly took my breath away. I realise it is not an easy subject to talk about - but in my experience people fleeing their homeland don't do this on a whim. They do it out of desperation and to portray this as some sort of "con" does no one any justice.

My fear is that this is part of what is now called "dog whistle" politics.. saying something that sends a signal to a certain group without being too explicit about what is meant.

Labour politicians used to stand up for the oppressed and for minorities. This guy has clearly decided that is not the way to go. Shame on him!

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