It was extraordinary to be at the Sanctuary in Parliament event this week, eleven years after Inderjit Bhogal and I first started to imagine the possibility of a City of Sanctuary movement in Sheffield.
Back in 2005 it seemed almost absurdly ambitious to aim for a city-wide movement that would unite community organisations, schools, universities, businesses, faith groups and local government around a shared vision of welcome for people seeking sanctuary. As City of Sanctuary gradually gained momentum, we dared to imagine that it could one day become part of a wider movement that might even begin to influence the national conversation about sanctuary for refugees.
This Tuesday, I joined members of City of Sanctuary groups from every part of the UK and Ireland inside the House of Commons, as sanctuary seekers shared their powerful testimonies and discussed the impact of UK asylum policy with MPs. It was a powerful demonstration of a grassroots City of Sanctuary movement that is now thriving in towns, villages and rural areas across the country, as well as every major city in the UK. The event also highlighted the way that a whole spectrum of other organisations are working together as part of a broad-based sanctuary movement, including the Refugee Council, Refugee Action, STAR, NACCOM, Citizens UK, Amnesty International and many others.
As we heard from all of the speakers, people seeking sanctuary in the UK are still encountering huge obstacles in our society and political system. This is always the case, but what has changed over the past eleven years is that there is now a growing, energised and united movement in support of sanctuary, which is increasingly being heard at every level of society, including the Houses of Parliament. This is the movement that Inderjit and I dared to imagine in 2005. Looking around at Sanctuary in Parliament 2016, I felt I was seeing that vision become reality.
Craig Barnett, Co-founder of City of Sanctuary.
Photo credit: Ambrose Musiyiwa CivicLeicester – Craig Barnett and Firas Sharefy, volunteer with CoS Sheffield.