How to affect policy change: engaging your political representatives

By Mailys Andre 

The step between acknowledging an issue and deciding to do something about it is significant and can be daunting. But it should not be.

Below are tips and recommendations for anyone and everyone to inform themselves about the do’s and don’ts of effective policy change. These notes were compiled from a recent Refugee Conference.

Key messages on Who does What:

1. Target the right people — With a specific problem start locally and work up. Talk to the agency delivering the service. Write to the responsible minister or Department. Use your Assembly Member to influence policy in Wales such as on health or education. Your MP can influence UK-wide asylum policy.

2. Think and do research — Before you lobby, search, for instance for Welsh Refugee Coalition papers, Welsh Refugee Council and City of Sanctuary evidence.

3. Form alliances — For issues that affect many people. Use existing policy positions.

4. Limit you request — To what that person is responsible for and build relationships. Be ready to influence several bodies to change their approach before you achieve a solution.

  • UK Government — Immigration, asylum decisions, legal aid, asylum support, repatriation, asylum seeker housing, human trafficking, resettlement programmes with local authorities, right to work, policy and legal framework, funding and contracting for migrant support, wider welfare and employment support.
  • Welsh Government — Health, education and skills services, economic development, poverty and social inclusion, local transport and housing (except asylum housing), policy, law, funding… Can influence local authorities and others.
  • Local authorities — Implementing resettlement programmes, education, environmental health, social services, homeless prevention, transport, other local services after grant asylum.
  • Members of Parliament — Can raise policy concerns on your behalf eg. with Ministers, or through commons debates, bill amendments, questions, early day motions or inquiries. They can potentially help raise profile of ‘hard’ cases or help change their party’s policy. The All Party parliamentary Group on Refugees including MPs and peers can press for change on specific issues (eg. unaccompanied children, human rights in different countries…).
  • Assembly Members — Can similarly raise profile of policy concerns on your behalf or through questions to Welsh Ministers, Send debates, amendments or inquiries and influence their party’s policy.

 

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Getting in touch: 

1. They work for you. MPs represent their constituents who have the power to vote them back in or boot them out, so they do care about what you think.

2. Find who your MP is — They often have a website where you can find out when they hold surgeries around the constituency and then get in touch to book an appointment. MPs will only deal with people who live in their constituency so make sure to include your address (postcode) when you get in touch.

3. Send an email. MPs get large volumes of emails every day on a range of issues so do your best to make yours clear and concise, clearly setting out what you’d life them to do. If you’re taking part in an ‘email your MP’ action, make sure to personalise your message to increase the likelihood of your email having an impact.

4. Get in touch via social media. Many but not all MPs are on social media. This can be an effective way to publicly press them on certain issues but be careful to ensure the tone is not too confrontational or to go down the ‘naming and shaming’ route as this can jeopardise a future relationship. Social media is a good way to highlight your MP’s support for a campaign and give them public recognition for their work.

‘If your issue is urgent, a phone call could allow them to take action sooner rather than waiting for a meeting.’

5. Pick up the phone. While you are unlikely to speak to your MP directly, you can book a meeting. It’s usually best to call the constituency number provided (rather than the Westminster number). If you have an issue you want to discuss, sending an email is often a good first step to allow your MP to consider the issue and their response. But if your issue is urgent, a phone call could allow them to take action sooner rather than waiting for a meeting.

6. Meet in person. MPs hold regular surgeries where constituents can come along and raise issues of importance to them. Don’t be intimidated by the prospect of a face to face meeting.

Do: 

  • Go to the right person. Your MP can push for change in the UK policy or take up a specific case. If the policy is devolved to Wales you should talk with your local or regional Assembly Member. You can also write directly to the responsible Minister.
  • Come prepared. Be sure to use arguments that make sense to them, not just you. Make sure you know about your MP including the issues they particularly care about. This should help you to understand their position on the issue you want to talk about and allows you to consider the messages which could resonate best.
  • Be clear on how they can help. Be clear on what you would like your representative to do about the issue you’ve brought to them.
  • Keep to time. MPs have very busy schedules so make sure to ask at the start of your meeting how much time you have and stick to it. Try and get your top messages across as quickly and simply as you can.

‘Offer them the ‘hero’ opportunity’.  

  • Offer them the ‘hero’ opportunity. Consider how backing your issue will play out for your MP in terms of impact on voters, important constituencies and local press. If you can frame your issue as an opportunity for your MP to step in and ‘save the day’ while gaining sature and visibility, they may be more likely to back you.
  • Bring the experiences of refugees and asylum-seekers. MPs don’t often hear from people who have been through the asylum system, and sometimes hearing from them directly can have the most impact. Consider how you can provide a platform for refugees ans asylum-seekers to ensure their voices are heard — whether by attending a meeting directly to share firsthand experiences or by using anonymised anecdotes ans stories.
  • Work with others. Consider bringing a group of people to your meeting who represent a diverse group of constituents. MPs are more likely to take notice if varied members of the community unite behind an issue.
  • Follow-up immediately. Send a follow-up email or letter after you’ve met summarising your key points and the action your MP agreed to take, as well as asking them to feedback on the outcome of their action.

Don’t: 

  • Assume knowledge. While MPs may come across confidently engaging on a number of issues, it is impossible for them to now them all in depth. Rather than launching into detailed policy discussions, think about how to introduce your issue clearly and simply.
  • Spam your MP. Personalising emails increases the chance that your MP will read and respond to your message — note that you are a constituent and make sure to add why the issue is important to you.
  • Ask for the impossible. Make your request as clear and practical as possible. If yours is a specific ask that can be carried out fairly quickly then use it as a stepping stone to your next ask. If you want to change a whole policy area consider the series of actions that can be taken and be prepared to find allies who will work on a sustained campaign.
  • Expect them to do all the work. Think about ways you can help your MP achieve your goal.They have limited resources to think about what you can offer to make supporting your issue even easier — e.g. offering to collate relevant research, draft key messages or questions to raise in Parliament, etc…
  • Give up if you hear no. If your MP disagrees with you, ask why and make sure to understand their motivations. Then you can go back to the drawing board, try to sport flaws in their arguments and consider how to build a more compelling case.

 

Having difficult conversations about/with migrants

by Mailys Andre

blog

At a Refugee Conference held last month, attention was drawn to having conversations with migrants or those who think differently to ourselves.  Below are the recommendations provided by HOPE not hate Cymru.

When having a difficult conversation with a migrant or asylum seeker, try to use the ‘listening wheel’:

  1. Open questions : How? What? Where? Who? Why?
  2. Summarising : A summary helps to show the individual that you have listened and understood their circumstances and their feelings.
  3. Reflecting : Repeating back a word or phrase encourage the individual to carry on and expand
  4. Clarifying : Sometimes an individual may gloss over an important point. By exploring these areas further we can help them clarify these points for themselves.
  5. Short Words of Encouragement: The person may need help to go on their story — use words like ‘yes’ or ‘go on’.
  6. Reacting : We need to show that we have understood the situation by reacting to it — “That sounds like it is very difficult”.

Don’t forget :

  1. Story/narrative is powerful (inspire people)
  2. Try to change the dynamic of your conversation (listen, question…)

What if you are facing the opposition?

Ask agitating questions such as :

  1. Has this happened to you before?
  2. What make you believe that?
  3. What makes you angry? (This involves a conscious question with conscious pause)

Try “Empathetic listening”:

  1. This should be your instinct.
  2. Be genuine.
  3. Engage with the person behind the opinion.

You can find out more about HOPE not hate and its current research here.

What does Brexit mean for the future of Welsh universities?

By Joe Crombie

The 21st century has seen Welsh universities flourish as student enrolment and campuses grew seemingly without limit. The higher education sector in Wales now directly contributes around £1.4 billion to the economy and indirectly powers around £1.4 billion through dependent industries. This growth was in part facilitated by the European Union, through funding grants or loans to Welsh institutions or through the student mobility and research collaboration that freedom of movement allowed. Brexit will have profound effects on Wales, but the higher education sector will feel particularly exposed as an industry heavily linked to the EU.

In recent years, British universities have embarked on a building binge. At the end of 2014, annual capital expenditure by British universities had reached £2.5 billion, with 500,000 square metres of new space being added. The rough equivalent area of around five new universities. european-union-155207_960_720

Welsh universities were no exception and saw major expansion. Swansea University recently opened its Bay Campus, which has allowed the university to double in size and further act as an engine of economic growth for the region. The funding for this huge expansion came from three chief sources: the Welsh Government, EU and European Investment Bank. Indeed, the funding from the EU amounted to £95 million. To the east, the opening of the prestigious Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre was made possible in part by £4.5 million of European funding. Welsh universities have been expanding dramatically and while the rise in student fees has resulted in a drive to energise facilities to improve student satisfaction, the money to turn proposals into reality has often come in contribution from EU institutions and there is no certainty that an alternative funding stream will be created after Brexit.

Funding for campus expansion is not the only place that Welsh universities have benefited from European cash. Funding for research to British institutions from the EU amounts to around £1 billion a year. In Wales the EU contributes around £35 million annually towards research or about 16% of the total Welsh institutions receive. In the rest of the UK the private sector is responsible for around 45% of total research funding but in Wales this drops to around 10% highlighting a greater dependence by Welsh institutions on European money compared to their British peers. The quality of research an institution puts out is a key barometer for its quality and any loss of research funding could detrimentally effect the quality and global standing of our universities.

While the financial connection of Welsh institutions to the EU is clear, the human link is just as valuable. Around a sixth of researchers at British universities come from elsewhere in the EU and any change in visa arrangements could make Wales look less attractive and result in a drain of academic talent and a difficulty to cooperate on future European wide projects. Around 17% of Cardiff Universities academic staff are EU nationals and the presence of academic talent from across Europe has been vital to the success of Welsh institutions. Student applications have already seen a decline, with an over 8% decrease in applications to Welsh universities from EU students. A fall in EU students has the potential of reducing the roughly £130 million they put into Welsh universities and their local economies. Indeed, the onset of Brexit is a factor that Prof Colin Riordan, Vice-Chancellor of Cardiff University has acknowledged will “probably” lead to a decline in applications.

The support Welsh universities will receive post-Brexit is unclear and this situation is likely to continue in the short term. But what is clear is that the expansion of universities in Wales has in part been driven by the financial and human input of the European Union. If higher education in Wales is to continue to thrive, it needs the support of a state that recognises the huge impact it plays in contributing to the prosperity of Wales and its people.

A game of cat & mouse: military challenges to the Home Office Scheme

In this final section of Maggie Smales‘ substantial research into Cardiff’s conscientious objectors, the author reveals the legal battles faced by Cardiff COs.

In March 1917, Philip Snowdon again raised the case of a Cardiff CO in the House of Commons.  Sydney Goodman from 62 Whitchurch Road was a Congregationalist deacon and lay reader who had been offered exemption from military service in May 1916 on condition that he accepted work of national importance.  However, at the end of December 1916 after some months working as a farm labourer, Sydney was suddenly arrested as an absentee, kept in cells for a few days and then handed over to the Training Reserve Battalion at Kinmel Park near Rhyl.  Here he was court-martialled on 19 February 1917 and sentenced to 2 years imprisonment with hard labour.

Hansard notes on 20 March 1917:

Mr SNOWDEN asked the Under-Secretary of State for War if he will order the immediate release of Sydney Goodman, at present detained at the guard room No 7 Camp, Kinmel Park who, while working on a farm at Bridgend, Glamorgan, and holding a certificate of exemption so long as he remained at that work, was illegally arrested on 30 December, and, after irregular proceedings at the Police Court, was handed over to the military authority, and having subsequently refused to obey military orders, has been court-martialled and sentenced to two years’ hard labour; and will he say what action he proposes to take with respect to the conduct of the military representative in committing this illegal act of arrest?

Sydney Goodman was far from being the only CO who was consigned to “work of national importance” and then had the decision over-ruled by the military authorities.  A long-running case was that of Henry Thomas, a Cardiff University student of Mount Street, Merthyr, who refused call up. His case went to-and-fro between Merthyr and the King’s Bench (the High Court) several times in the autumn of 1917 and the spring of 1918.

The Merthyr Stipendiary magistrate, Mr R. A. Griffiths, summed up the case in September 1917:

Defendant was tried at Merthyr 23 May 1916 as an absentee, when he was fined 40s and handed over to the military authorities. Whether one sympathises with his conscientious scruples or not it must be admitted that from first to last defendant has shown the courage of his convictions. There can be no doubt that his abhorrence to slaughter is deep and abiding. I am satisfied that no amount of discipline or hard treatment would ever make a soldier of him. Shortly after joining the colours he was court-martialled for his opinions and sentenced to six months imprisonment.

(Whilst serving his sentence Henry Thomas was called before the Central Tribunal at Wormwood Scrubbs)

Defendant appeared before the Central Tribunal and was found to be a Conscientious Objector; was transferred to Class W, Army Reserve, and was placed under the Home Office Scheme […] In pursuance of this arrangement he worked at Warwick, Lyme Regis and Dartmoor. On the 25th May last (ie 1917) a sub-agent at Dartmoor came to him and, without giving any reason, told him to go home. He returned to Merthyr Tydfil, where he has remained ever since.

On the 29 May a notice was sent to him recalling him to the colours. Having regard to this notice he was arrested by the Merthyr Police at the instance of the military, and brought before this court on a charge of being an absentee. There was no evidence before me – nor was it ever alleged – that the defendant had failed to comply with the conditions laid down by the Home Office Committee.

On the facts which I have just recapitulated, […] I came to the conclusion (on 19 June 1917) that the defendant – to quote the words of the letter of 24th August (1916) – had ceased to be subject to military discipline and the Army Act.” I, therefore, decided that he was not an absentee. […]

The Pioneer of 11 May 1918 takes up the story:

Henry Thomas, as some of our readers will readily recall, is a Merthyr CO who accepted work under the Home Office Scheme. He worked in various centres, including Lyme Regis, where, it is alleged by the Home Office Committee and denied by Thomas, he and some fellow C0’s jeered at some wounded soldiers. He was transferred to the Dartmoor Centre I from where he was sent home by the sub-agent, who in reply to Thomas’ question as to the reason for being sent home, notified defendant that he could give no reason.

Thomas was subsequently arrested as an absentee and brought before the Merthyr Stipendiary (Mr R. A. Griffiths) who refused to convict on the ground that the terms of the circular letter issued by the Committee to Thomas whilst serving his sentence in Cardiff was a contract removing Thomas from the army, conditional upon the Central Tribunal finding, as they did in fact find, that Thomas is a genuine conscientious objector, and his undertaking work of national importance under the scheme.

The prosecution appealed against this finding and the case was sent back by the Law Lords for rehearing. The rehearing resulted in a similar decision in Merthyr, and again an appeal was made to the High Court, where it came up for hearing on Thursday, April 25th, and was again remitted for rehearing.

Tantalisingly, the Pearce Register does not tell us how this story ended.

 

 

Facebook, Brexit and the Global Community: a reflection on my time as a WCIA Volunteer

Sereen Kutubi looks back at her time as a volunteer for the Welsh Centre for International Affairs (WCIA).

I started volunteering with the WCIA during my last term at university. The knowledge and skills I gained during my time volunteering were extremely useful and the range of opportunities I was offered in the WCIA was great. I began volunteering on a weekly basis as a social media volunteer: I researched and produced content, scheduled it for publishing and attended events during my spare time. I thoroughly enjoyed creating social content for the WCIA as they share such a variety of information that promotes peace and global citizenship. Being able to work in the Temple of Peace also gave me an insight into the other organisations that share the building such as Hub Africa and Wales for Peace.

Attending the Brexit debates held at the Temple of Peace was extremely insightful:  listening to influential speakers such as Sally Holland (Children’s commissioner for Wales), Sir Emyr Jones Parry (former British diplomat and representative at the UN) and Adam Price (Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Business, Economy & Finance) gave me a deeper understanding of the issues surrounding Britain post-Brexit and hearing their opinions on matters that are important and are going to affect the population helped me to understand how we can spread awareness.

My involvement in the WCIA has been a significant experience for me:  it taught me a lot about how charities work, about the impact they can make on social and political issues and the extent that Wales is contributing to a greater global community.  Being involved with the WCIA motivated me to be a more active member in my community and to spread the message that individuals have the potential to make a positive impact. I look forward to continuing my involvement with the WCIA and learning more valuable skills and contributing to a positive, peaceful global community.

A reflection on the positive developments the world has seen in 2016

By David Hooson

 Every year, December encourages us all to look back on the year as it comes to a close. In 2016 perhaps more than ever, upsetting events have dominated and can naturally dominate our memories of the year. However, there were also plenty of positive events this year, as well as things that can give us hope that the world is still progressing towards peace and understanding between all people. Let’s recall just a few of these positive developments.

The Paris Agreement on tackling climate change, which was drafted at the end of 2015, was signed in April and came into effect in November. As the most comprehensive international agreement on climate change, with the most international signatories, it has been hailed as a historic step towards tackling the environmental challenges of the future.

The terrorist group Boko Haram, one of the greatest threats to peace and security in West Africa in recent years, was further weakened this year and now appears to be on the brink of total extinction. The January release of 1,000 women held hostage was a big moment, and a further 600 people have been freed in December. The group are still holding many of the Chibok schoolgirls they kidnapped in 2014, but some have been returned to their families throughout this year.

The 52-year conflict in Colombia, in which hundreds of thousands of people were killed and millions displaced, was resolved with a peace deal between the Colombian government and the FARC rebel group. Negotiations had been ongoing for four years, and the first draft of the deal was rejected by a referendum in October. However, a revised peace agreement was signed by President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leaders in November and the Colombian Congress voted to approve the deal. President Santos was also presented with this year’s Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his efforts to bring peace to his country.

In June, the United Nations’ 47-member Human Rights Council voted to appoint an independent expert on LGBT rights to monitor violence and discrimination against LGBT people globally. Past attempts to make progress on LGBT issues at the UN have been frustrated or defeated by opposition from countries where the law actively discriminates against LGBT people, so this decision represents a significant breakthrough. An attempt to overturn the decision through the UN General Assembly was defeated in November, giving this new role an even more solid basis to campaign for an end to violence and discrimination against LGBT individuals.

The Council of Europe’s ‘Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence’ – known as the Istanbul Convention – was finally ratified by 22 countries, having been signed five years ago. In some of these countries, the Convention is now the strongest protection women have against gender-based violence, sexual violence and domestic abuse. The UK is now in the process of becoming the 23rd country to ratify the Convention.

In stark contrast to divisive media rhetoric and concerning hate crime statistics, refugees from Syria arriving in Wales were warmly welcomed by local communities. The number of refugees allowed into the country is determined by the UK Government, but Local Authorities across Wales have been more than willing to help families and individuals fleeing violence, with refugees being settled all across Wales.

Examples of refugees being welcomed:

Aberystwyth

Wrexham

There will be many challenges for the international community to address in 2017, some new and some continuing, but stories like these should give us hope that we can and will continue to make progress. Hopefully next year the stories of hope and progress will dominate, and 2017 will keep the world on track towards a peaceful future of justice and equality for all.

‘Sanctuary in the Senedd’. But what about in the Welsh government?

By Rosa Brown

Dr Thierry Grah is a qualified GP from the Ivory Coast. He is ready to work and keen to help support the Welsh NHS, but has been unable to do so because he is an asylum seeker and does not have the right to work.  Dr Grah is a symbol of the failures in current legislation’s  treatment of asylum seekers and refugees. For too long this debate has been driven by numbers and straplines: the UK government’s pledge to rehouse 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020, the use of the UK’s £12bn international aid budget to house Syrian refugees. Such an approach reduces the subject to a matter of statistics rather than one of human life, in addition to overlooking the quality of living conditions and health that is provided to refugees and asylum seekers. Furthermore, it risks the creation of a hierarchy in the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers based on where they come from, a categorisation of ‘who has suffered the most’.

Whilst Dr Grah’s story indicates the shortcomings of immigration policy issued from the Home Office, the role of the Welsh government has also left a lot to be desired, particularly in relation to matters of health, education and integration.

Last week Dr Grah and many others who seek to make Wales their home were invited to tell their stories at the ‘Sanctuary in the Senedd’ event, organised by the Welsh Refugee Coalition (WRC). The WRC unites over thirty organisations- including the Welsh Centre for International Affairs (WCIA) – to speak as one in the interest of asylum seekers and refugees. Personal testimonies from asylum seekers and refugees along with written evidence produced by WRC members will be recorded and submitted to the Equalities, Local Government and Communities Committee as evidence for their inquiry into the support available for refugee and asylum seekers in Wales.

In March 2016, the Welsh government published its Refugee and Asylum Seeker Delivery plan, to detail how Wales would support these people in need. The report largely considered issues such as mental and physical health, social cohesion and education- particularly in terms of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). A Welsh government spokesperson has claimed that the plan has already resulted in positive changes, though they acknowledged the need to update its information on new schemes as they develop.

However in the last few weeks members of the WRC have largely criticised the Welsh government’s plan, namely under the accusation that it has attempted to present already established schemes as a means to solve all issues relating to the refugee crisis. Rocio Cifuentes, Director of the Ethnic Youth Support Team in Swansea, implored the Welsh government to do more to consider how asylum seekers and refugees are being perceived, particularly in local and national media. There have also been calls to put pressure on the UK government to invest more money in ESOL schemes, as the persistence of language barriers is detrimental to any person’s education, development and employment prospects. As education policy is devolved in Wales, the Welsh government have a responsibility to exert this pressure and deliver.

A further issue which the Welsh and UK government must be held to account is in regards to the housing of asylum seekers in Wales. As a result of the Home Office’s responsibility to implement UK policy on asylum, a £119m contract was issued with Clearsprings Ready Homes to provide all asylum accommodation in Wales. The condition of many of these houses has been severely criticised, from broken fire alarms and electrical sockets to leaking plumbing and damp.

According to the Welsh Government’s report on asylum seekers and refugees, the government ‘will work in partnership with the Home Office and relevant agencies and service providers to encourage the development of efficient and fair services for asylum  seekers who come to Wales’.  However, in regards to Clearsprings, there appears to be little evidence of this. A spokesperson from the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) admitted to the Equalities, Local Government and Communities Committee that no evidence of the poor housing conditions in Wales had been presented to the Home Office.

The existence of the ‘Sanctuary in the Senedd’ event is important, as it provided the opportunity to not only hear the stories of asylum seekers and refugees but hear what needs to be done. The Welsh government’s Refugee and Asylum Seeker Delivery plan does not currently appreciate the context of the refugee crisis and the needs of those who look to Wales and the UK for sanctuary. The Welsh government’s partial impact in this area of legislation may complicate this issue, though this should not be used as an excuse. Once any refugee or asylum seeker has reached Wales, the government is obliged to help them rebuild their lives and currently it has fallen short of this responsibility.