By Paul FitzPatrick
Representatives from the various ‘Cities of Sanctuary’ across Yorkshire and Humberside met on 28 October for a ‘Learning and Sharing Together’ event. In his address, Jonathan Ellis, the national vice- chair, spoke about ‘Building amovement’ to focus on refugee rights. He compared this with examples from the past such as anti- slavery or suffragette campaigns.
The focus on the rights of refugees and people seeking sanctuary needed now to be more prominent. The meeting considered the tensions involved between building such a movement (there are now more than 100 sanctuary groups across the UK) and the need to bring about political change to improve the experiences of people seeking asylum.
As part of this effort, City of Sanctuary now host Asylum Matters, an advocacy and campaigns project which works in partnership locally and nationally to improve the lives of refugees and people seeking asylum, through social and political change. It emerged from the work of the Still Human Still Here coalition and the Regional Asylum Activism Project. The immediate issues are not surprising: improved decision making and access to good quality legal advice; an end to indefinite detention and to destitution; free access to healthcare and to language tuition. All of these are means towards treating people seeking asylum with dignity and respect. A major challenge however is to take this message into the wider community to try to change the terms of the debate, which might then create space for politicians to move forward on these concerns more creatively.