The title of the presentation was Refugees – Sorting Fact from Fiction. This was delivered in an interesting and thought-provoking way by guest speaker Tessa Sayers, a local resident.
Tessa began by telling us about the various roles she held during her time as a volunteer for the Newcastle-based West End Refugee Service, including being a past member of the Board of Trustees and her role as a befriender.
She explained the differences between refugees and asylum seekers, and how under international law everyone has the right to apply for asylum in another country and remain there until the authorities have assessed their claim.
If their claim is successful they become refugees and have the same rights and responsibilities as a British citizen. They can work and must pay taxes like everyone else.
The West End Refugee Service is a charity which has operated since 1998. It provides practical support, including home visits, advocacy advice, employment advice and a clothing store, as well as emotional support through the befriending scheme.
It operates mainly with volunteers and is currently supporting around 800 asylum seekers in the North East.