Rethinking Refugees

Refugee Community Artwork, Northern France
Refugee Community Artwork, Northern France – picture provided by the Author

Folkestone Labour Party Asks Conference For a Rethink on Refugees

Annual party conferences are always about motivating the members. Motivation for the Labour movement and for the country was always going to be a hard ask. Many Labour activists have lost their mojo in the Johnson era and are feeling becalmed and slightly adrift mid-season between elections. But Folkestone and Hythe Constituency Party succeeded in getting this year’s Conference to consider a rethink on asylum seekers.

The colours of Labour seem muted, less radical. The change reflected changing leadership styles from Corbyn’s compelling calls to confront the democratic deficit and champion the economically excluded, to the judicious and calmer Starmer, putting intellectual rigour into his weekly Westminster jousting with Johnson’s teflon turpitude.

Two Delegates From Folkestone and Hythe

Folkestone and Hythe CLP sent two delegates to Conference this year, and their feedback was pretty positive: since both found interesting debates, workshops and connections. For the first time, the local party saw a conference motion [pp. 23–25] travel from inspiring local discussion through to long-list and into the compositing process for a batch of 20 shortlisted resolutions – the inevitable typo messaging excitedly that we had been successfully “composted”.

Addressing Conference With Conviction

On the conference floor, Abena Akuffo-Kelly, the CLP Equalities Officer, spoke with conviction about the need for a significant rethink on asylum seekers and immigration policy. This was topical in locality and timing.

In Kent we witness the desperation of regular small boat crossings from Northern France. This is the final stage of journeys which have seen many of these dispossessed people travel thousands of miles. It also resonated in several ways at a personal level.

Call for rethink on refugees: French police clearing refugee communities in Northern France 2019
French police clearing refugee communities in Northern France 2019 – picture supplied by Author

Abena writes: 

“This wasn’t my first Labour conference. My very first one had been a women’s conference. The feeling of kinship, camaraderie and shared vision was palpable. I came away with renewed purpose and a string of new contacts.

But, it was an absolute joy to be part of the Labour family. That is, to be surrounded by so many people who believed in social justice and equality for all. The icing on the cake was our motion being chosen for compositing.

To be chosen to speak on the motion was an honour. As a child of immigrant parents this was a seminal moment and a culmination of my lived experiences. I am an inhabitant of Folkestone, a town seeing the real toll of the ‘hostile environment’. It was a poignant reminder of our interconnectedness with the global community.

As a black person, however, I felt burdened by the stereotype of single-issue politics. I felt that my speaking on this matter somehow restricted my voice as an activist who can speak on a number of issues, who is not just limited to race and immigration.

These conflicting narratives played in my head as I wrote my speech. As I’m apt to do, I saw the silver lining that my personal struggle actually meant that my speech was more nuanced and more emotive because of my status as the daughter of first-generation immigrants; that I brought something to the table that perhaps others wouldn’t have been able been able to do; that I could speak with passion and vigour because I spoke my truth. 

Conference again worked its magic and made me realise that I can make a difference, my CLP can make a difference.”

Speech Draws Applause

Abena’s speech was short but powerful, setting out Labour’s international responsibility and humanitarian values in a way which the conference applauded.