Last night saw a packed Labour Party meeting at HEART in Headingley. New and old members gathered to hear Ruth Woodhead from LASSN speak on refugees and asylum speakers, and on the way Leeds is organised to respond to them. Members had brought along their own contributions – so many that an extra room had to be opened to take them! The meeting passed a motion to send to Labour Party Conference calling on the UK government to accept its fair share of refugees, and to work with Local Government to do this.
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Ruth Woodhead, deputy chair of Leeds Asylum Seekers’ Support Network [LASSN] stressed how important it is to resist the press confusion of refugees and migrants. Refugees are people who have fled their own homes due to well-founded fear of persecution.
The vast bulk of refugees in the world are to be found in the countries bordering those from which they have fled.

Leeds has a history of accepting refugees – including, for example, those from Kosovo.

LASSN provides help for those refugees through;
– Befriending – 50-70 trained people offer longterm, practical and emotional support on an individual basis;
– English at Home – where volunteer tutors help with the acquisition of English language skills, providing for those who need that help in their own home not at college,
– Grace Hosting – where people provide temporary accommodation for refugees.
Ruth opened new perspectives on the refugees’ plight, including the emotional rupture and generational isolation for people who often have to leave all their elderly family behind. Volunteers with white hair – who can help fill that gap – are certainly welcome!

LASSN fits into a network of organisations in Leeds which are gearing up to receive refugees in the city – as we’ve reported before.

Ruth made clear how far changes and cuts in local government spending have made the job more difficult, including
– cuts which have affected Citizens Advice Bureau
– the disappearance of legal aid
– the reliance of so many organisations now on lottery funding.

The impact of privatisation has also been felt here – including the transfer to the private sector of the role of finding accommodation for refugees.

Labour members at the meeting recognised both the need to take our fair share of refugees – but also the need to give Local Government the help it needs to do just that. The settlement of refugees will be a task undertaken at local level – and the government must ensure that the support is there to fulfil that.

The meeting passed a motion which will now be sent to Labour Party Conference – to play its part in forming Labour policy
Urging ‘the Labour Party to put pressure on the government to accept a fair share of the refugees seeking sanctuary in Europe, and to work with Local Government to this end.’

Members here in Leeds NW were also anxious to do their own bit – here and now.
A party member in Pool is collecting goods to send to refugees in camps. Contributions brought to the meeting swamped the room, which was already packed with those attending. Fortunately HEART had space to accommodate both us and our offerings!

Leeds Labour Council is determined to fulfil its role as a City of Sanctuary – which means receiving and welcoming refugees, and making sure the structures are in place to do just that.
Here in Leeds NW we’re doing our bit – exerting our political influence wherever we can.
As we’ve reported before there are ways in which we can all help.

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