Much to my joy I received my first Norwich North by-election leaflets from the BNP today.

The first one was pretty much as I expected:

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I think its the same layout as the one they used for the Euro elections a couple of months ago: it’s got the Battle of Britain spitfire picture which caused some hilarity last time round when it was revealed to be a Polish (in BNP speak: dirty-foreigner-Eastern-Europeans-coming-over-here-and-taking-all-our-jobs) squadron plane, and it’s got four numpties, I mean ordinary British working people, trying to make excuses for their decision to embrace fascism.

“I’m voting BNP because I’m sick of immigration. Asylum seekers come here and get everything handed to them on a plate whilst hard working local people struggle with a recession and rising unemployment”

spouts a woman who has obviously never had the misfortune of trying to negotiate her way through our barbaric asylum system, while an old soldier who claims to have fought against the Nazis in WWII fails to be struck by the irony of his appearance in a British Nazi Party propaganda sheet.

But it was the second leaflet that really caught my eye:

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More specifically, it was that little yellow box at the top right-hand side that made me sit bolt upright and yell “You lying fascist scum!” at the top of my lungs.

Here it is again, this time in close-up:

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Okay. For the record, I had some peripheral involvement with the Gateway Protection Programme that the BNP is trying to discredit here. For a couple of years I represented Norfolk Library and Information Service on the multi-agency Norwich Asylum Seeker and Refugee Forum (NASREF), and I was a member of it when the decision was taken to sign Norwich up to the Gateway Programme: I also had the pleasure of meeting the first tranche of refugees and showing them around the City library as part of their initial orientation programme. In other words, I know a bit about this issue, unlike whichever BNP hatemonger came up with the mendacious piece of crap above.

And I can quite categorically state that no local people lost out on housing to the Congolese refugees who settled here in December 2006/January 2007 and in January 2008, because in order to prevent exactly the kind of resentment that the BNP leaflet is trying to stir up, a decision was taken right at the very start of the process to house the families through private accommodation rather than through the City Council’s housing stock.

Furthermore, the Gateway Protection Programme was funded in its entirety by the Home Office, so no local resources were spent on housing and supporting the refugees either on their arrival, or during their first year here. The expectation was that after that first year the refugees would be fully integrated into their local schools and communities, and that the adults would be in employment and thus able to provide for themselves. Support was also provided by the Red Cross and by the Refugee Council.

Contrary to the assertion in the BNP’s first paragraph that housing priority was given to “African Asylum seekers” the refugees were housed through private sector leased homes. As one of the initial proposals read:

“The emphasis on private sector homes is due to the fact that Norwich is a very high demand area for social housing and we want to avoid any perception of new arrivals taking resources away from people who are in need in the local area.”

So to reiterate, no council-allocated accommodation went to the Gateway refugees, and no local people were pushed to the back of any housing queue as a result of either Norwich City Council or Broadland Council signing up to the Gateway Protection Programme.

As for the constant references to the Gateway Programme refugees being asylum seekers, we’re talking here about people who had fled the fighting in the Congo, who were living in refugee camps in Zaire (and in some cases who had been in those camps for as long as 10 years), and who had been accepted as refugees by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) while they were still in the camps: in other words prior to their arrival in Britain. They did not come here seeking asylum, because they’d already been granted it: it had already been acknowledged that they were unable to return to their own country of origin or settle in the country where they living at the time their refugee status was approved.

As one of the refugees has said:

“We have witnessed many heinous atrocities. Because of this most of us left our homes and took refuge in Zambia and other neighbouring countries. We were in refugee camps for about 9 years and we made camps ourselves by changing a forest into a village by the help of UNHCR.

Thankfully to the UNHCR and the UK government we were selected and given the opportunity to come over here. We are welcomed by the UK government and the people of Norwich. We are grateful for the hospitality we have been receiving. We are grateful for all the agencies that have been helping us to resettle in this community. Thank you very much for everything you did for us. We are now in a safe haven because of everyone’s contribution.”

And he’s right. The Congolese refugees who settled here through the Gateway Protection Programme are now in a safe haven and have been welcomed with open arms by the people of Norwich. As always, the BNP is simply intent on stirring up hate and resentment where none exists.

Thankfully I’m fairly sure that this Thursday, July 23rd, when the constituents of Norwich North go to the polls the BNP will get the message loud and clear, just as they did in the Euro elections: if anyone’s not welcome here it’s them. Because if local people are sick of anyone, it’s of those who want to come into our communities and spread hate; it’s of those who have nothing to offer but cynicism and lies.

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