Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Proud and Disappointed of the UK

By Peter Richardson, Director of LASSN

Over the past 12 years more than 1,100 journalists and media staff have been killed in the line of duty. None of them in the UK. We can be proud of our country, the freedom of our press and our record on human rights. But I'm also disappointed.

Last night's Refugee Week event in Leeds included talks from two prominent journalists from West Africa (see also). We heard accounts of personal imprisonment and beatings, and saw disturbing pictures of violence.

Charles Atangana was detained in Cameroon for 40 days. In this first period of detention he was beaten and tortured. He was later detained for a further 52 days - this time in the UK. He wasn't beaten or tortured in the UK but how can it be right for us to lock him up simply for seeking sanctuary here.

James Fallah has been in the UK for 12 years. For 9 years he was an active member of society with full legal rights. He studied, he worked and he paid tax and national insurance. Suddenly last year his permission to work was revoked, his asylum claim refused and James now faces an uncertain future.

The evening finished with a song from Women Asylum Seekers Together. A refused asylum seeker sang to us, telling us "How beautiful you are" and telling us "your handouts are a hope to our needs." I know she has been destitute in the UK, with not a single penny of support. She only survived because of the local church providing food and a place to sleep.

We can rightly be proud of the UK. In our country it is safe to express discontent and safe to challenge the government. A recent survey showed that we are proud to be British. It also showed that almost all of us (82%) believe that protecting the most vulnerable is a core British value.

We should be proud but I can't help feeling disappointed at how we treat some of the most vulnerable people who seek sanctuary here.

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