Alexandra Williams’s observations on our first Think Tank of the year (Cheadle Hulme School’s Politics Society):
“I am the next Charlie Troup” proclaimed Sam Watson, confidently plonking himself down on the front row of chairs. Swiftly reprimanded by the Head of Politics Mr Axon nostalgically stating Charlie was (and we hope still is) a “sartorial king”, Think Tank 2012 was set to sail. “Asylum Seekers” and “Refugees” aren’t your average buzz words of a Friday lunch – but last Friday saw Cheadle Hulme School’s Politics department rolling to the tune of a man determined to help the people who, in this country at least, hold the fewest rights in society. He was Dave Smith of the Boaz Trust and he came, saw and educated us on a subject we were all staggeringly lacking in the knowledge of.
Asylum seekers and refugees make up 0.26% of the British Population. As Smith hastened to clarify, asylum seekers are those awaiting judgement as to whether they may remain in the UK whereas refugees are those who have been granted permission to stay. 74% of claims are initially rejected as the system is ever tightening up; legal aid is difficult to acquire and if it is, only 15 hours with a solicitor are permitted giving little time to collate evidence. The Boaz trust, on behalf of whom Smith was speaking, are committed to “serving destitute asylum seekers”; finding them accommodation and legal help. On the issue of asylum seekers not being allowed to work Smith said “If you have nothing and you’re working illegally (to combat this) then that’s ok with me”.
Dave illustrated the hardship faced by those seeking safety and shelter in the UK by relating the struggle of a Darfurian man who returned to his village one day to find it raised to the ground and all inhabitants killed in an ethnic cleansing regime – his parents and sister included. He fled across the Sudan and paid his way onto a container sailing from Port Sudan to Liverpool and spent a week sleeping on the steps of Rochdale Town Hall before finding solace at a Red Cross project in Old Trafford. These are the kind of people the trust are helping.
At 1pm sharp, Dave was cut off by the fire bell’s banshee wail. Amidst a few grumbles and Mr Thorn’s assurance that it was only a test alarm, Mr Axon seemed convinced of a conspiracy; “it must be the Daily Mail trying to shut us down!” Well, quite. Dave Smith cited the Mail along with The Sun, The Daily Star and The Daily Express as the biggest culprits for negatively portraying refugees; front pages of The Express rolled behind him on the whiteboard bearing the headlines “Now Asylum if you’re gay”, “One in 5 Britons will be ethnic” and “All bombers sponging asylum seekers” whilst he deemed politicians as “afraid of Middle England, of Daily Mail readers who believe the papers and base their vote on them”. In true fighting spirit, Smith continued through the clanging – reaching the harrowing conclusion that “although other countries are worse than us, that doesn’t mean that we’re good”. A message all of us, it seems, should be dwelling on.