Looking back over the recent Refugee Week, I spent a lot of time talking across the country about the need to build a social movement to welcome asylum seekers and refugees.
In our City of Sanctuary network, more and more of us are talking about the need to build such a movement; while the growth of towns and cities of sanctuary is so welcome, now over 70 across the UK, we know that this is just a part of this much needed movement. We need to include other groups and organisations, which share our desire to ensure a welcome, and all to come together not in a new organisation but in a loose movement of groups and individuals with this common purpose.
But as part of this growing movement, we need to not just take practical action, but also we also need to speak out about the changes that we would like to see in the country. A great example of doing just that was the successful campaign last year to increase the number of resettled Syrian refugees coming to the UK. It was great to see local city of sanctuary groups and other organisations and individuals swinging in behind the campaign led by Amnesty and Refugee Council.
And this is an important point: as a growing movement we need to speak out about the injustices that are happening and make clear that this is not happening in our name. For example we might want to speak out about:
- The people who are left destitute when their asylum claim is refused but they cannot be returned to their home country, such as to Eritrea – their asylum support is cancelled, their accommodation taken away but they are refused the right to work – they are open to abuse and exploitation.
- People who have no access to public funds and who then cannot secure safe and decent housing. We need to see more projects like the excellent Hope project in Birmingham which, working in partnership with others, offers accommodation and support to such people.
- People who are detained indefinitely because of their immigration status. Despite the excellent All-Party Parliamentary Group report published last year, which recommended a time limit of 28 days for such detention – we still have indefinite detention in this country for people who have committed no crime.
- People who either are denied publicly funded legal aid support (such as those seeking to be re-united through refugee family reunion) or those who have the theoretical right to legal aid support for their asylum claim, but find that there is no legal aid lawyer in their area. Legal support is so important for people seeking to make a claim for sanctuary in this country.
- Or people who do receive refugee status and leave to remain in the UK and then struggle to find a decent, safe home and a decently paid job. And here we can link up with other social movements calling for a living wage, more affordable housing and an end to insecure zero hours contracts, which would benefit many people in our country including refugees.
At a time of great uncertainty in our country, it is so important that we come together and show our support and solidarity with the most vulnerable people in our society – those who come here seeking protection and sanctuary – let’s keep building our movement, offering welcome and speaking out.
Jonathan Ellis – writing in a personal capacity
National Vice Chair
City of Sanctuary