From a child fleeing a brutal dictator to Hull city councillor hoping to ease the refugee crisis

As a young boy, he saw his father die from the torture inflicted on him by a brutal regime.

Haroldo Herrera-Richmond was just two years old when Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship took power in Chile.

Now a Hull city councillor after coming to England, Cllr Herrera-Richmond is well qualified to speak on the global refugee crisis.

It is believed up to 3,000 people died during Pinochet’s rule. Another 30,000 who were tortured and 200,000 were forced into exile.

Hull City Councillor Haroldo Herrera-Richmond in Queens Gardens
Hull City Councillor Haroldo Herrera-Richmond in Queens Gardens

Cllr Herrera-Richmond remembers hiding under the hospital bed of his mother, who had given birth to his younger brother the day before, the day the US-backed military coup hit. The new government was quick to silence critics.

He said: “The regime targeted several groups, two of which were teachers and union members.

“Both my parents were teachers and active in the unions. It was a dangerous time for them.”

They managed to stay safe, but only temporarily.

In May of 1975, they got to his father. The secret police took him away and tortured him with electric-shock therapy. He was returned home several days later, but died that night as his family held him.

Cllr Herrera-Richmond said: “My mother, as a single parent, felt she had no choice but to leave.”

After negotiations with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the UK accepted 3,000 Chilean refugees. Cllr Herrera-Richmond, along with his mother and brother, believes they were one of 20 families to end up in Hull.

He said: “It was a very strange time and I remember being very homesick.

“Within 24 hours, we went from the height of summer to winter in Hull.

“We left a home and had to find somewhere to live straight away.

“In less than a year, we lived in five different houses.”

As he and his brother Horacio grew older, his mother worked for the University of Hull as the head of the Hispanic studies department and remarried.

Horacio gravitated to the arts and became a graphic designer, but for Haroldo, politics was a clear calling.

He said: “I am very grateful to Britain and Hull for taking us in, for giving us a much better life than would have been possible for us. That was one of the biggest things that led me to want to be a councillor.

“I decided to get involved because I felt that I had a voice and I had a perspective that I wanted to be heard.

“I’m just a normal bloke, but that’s how democracy works. It works best when people get involved.

“It’s a way to serve people. I care about this city a lot and now I’m working my backside off to pay it back. There is a sense of justice to it.”

Cllr Herrera-Richmond was elected in May as a Labour councillor for the Boothferry ward.

With a wave of Syrian refugees now seeking safety in Europe, he feels a deep sense of obligation to help. Although the UK Government has committed to taking in 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020, he believes the country can do more.

“I had a realisation how society collectivism can really help individuals.

“When I look at the UK in terms of refugees compared to countries like Turkey, I am just ashamed of our government and we need to do more.

“We are having meetings and discussions with fellow councillors, but our talk will just be platitudes unless we receive funding. We must keep putting pressure on the central government and convince them to do more.

“We need to provide English classes and help children settle into schools.

“We need to give people the basis to support themselves. People need help to fit into society. They need that bridge to contribute.”

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