City of Sanctuary is a movement to build a culture of welcome and hospitality for refugees and asylum-seekers. In 2007, with the support of the City Council, Sheffield became the UK’s first ‘City of Sanctuary’ for asylum-seekers and refugees—a city that takes pride in the welcome it offers to people in need of safety.

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  • We are deeply saddened to announce the death of Yvonne Cass, a tireless campaigner for refugees & migrants in South Yorkshire and beyond. Yvonne came to the UK as a refugee from South Africa, where she was first a supporter, then critic of the ANC. Once here, she set up MARCO, the Migrant, Asylum, Refugee Community Organisation in Barnsley, working to break down barriers between those groups, and with the local community. Yvonne went on to work for the Northern Refugee Centre, and to become Vice-Chair and briefly Chair of the Refugee Council. The funeral will take place at 10.15am on Friday 27th March at City Road Crematorium, City Road, Sheffield, South Yorkshire S2 1GD. More details about Yvonne’s life can be found on the NRC website.
  • People who have come to Sheffield looking for a place of safety will share their experiences of ‘welcome’ at an event at the Town Hall next week (Friday 20th March). Four exiles from different parts of the world who arrived in the city over a span of 70 years will talk about what it’s like to arrive here as a stranger, and how Sheffield has made their exile bearable. The four include a woman in her 80’s who arrived in the city as a bewildered 11 year old on the ‘Kindertransport’ after escaping from Nazi Germany, another who fled the Pinochet regime in Chile, and a political activist who was imprisoned and tortured in Uganda. The audience will be invited to question the speakers, and to consider what they can do to make today’s new arrivals feel welcome. The event is free and includes a light supper. If you’d like to book a place at the event you can do so here or just turn up on the 20th March, 5pm at Sheffield Town Hall, PInstone Street, S1 2HH.
  • Sheffield organisations were well represented at the first ever Sanctuary Summit held in Birmingham last Saturday. At least 10 local people representing seven different local groups joined 400 others from all over Britain to express their solidarity with migrants and refugees. The Archbishop of York, the Rt Rev Dr John Sentamu sent a message of support and the Chief Executive of the Refugee Council Maurice Wren urged participants to “reclaim the centre ground of political debate with empathy, compassion and common sense”. One of the highlights of the day was an appearance by the so-called “Glasgow Girls”, four women(pictured) who shot to fame as schoolgirls when they saved their asylum-seeking friend from deportation. The summit ended with a vote of support for the “Birmingham Declaration“ – a set of principles and aspirations to which organisations around the country are invited to sign.
  • A presentation about City of Sanctuary Sheffield proved to be one of the highlights at a meeting in the Palace of Westminster, when our Awareness Co-ordinator Rodrigo Edema spoke about our work in local schools. Rodrigo was assisted by Evie Baker and Laura Dodds, two students who had been moved to volunteer after hearing him speak at their school (pictured here with colleagues from Bristol). The meeting, in a Parliamentary committee room overlooking the Thames, was organised by the Lib Dem MP Sarah Teather, to showcase the work of City of Sanctuary groups around the country. More than 35 MPs turned up to hear the speeches, including Paul Blomfield of Sheffield Central, who praised Rodrigo for his work in raising awareness about asylum.
  • Friends from far and wide congregated in Sheffield to join a tremendous expression of gratitude for the founder of ASSIST and Sheffield Conversation Club – Myra Davies, who died after a short illness in May. Myra’s family listened as people queued to pay their own tributes to someone many described as a ‘saint’. The memorial event was organised by ASSIST, together with Myra’s family and was attended by around 200 people, many of whom had personal stories to tell about how Myra had helped them or their loved ones as they sought – and fought for – sanctuary in Sheffield. Tears and laughter intermingled with memories and music, ending with songs for Myra by Body of Sound choir, pictured. Read Azizeh’s poem to Myra on our blog here
  • Friends and family have been paying tribute to Anowar Tagabo, a 25 year old student who has died following an incident in Sheffield. Anowar had been visiting the city for a family wedding when he was attacked in the city centre. He was taken to hospital and died nine days later. Police are treating the incident as murder. Anowar’s cousin Mansour described the student as “a kind, friendly and peace loving young man”. He added: “Anowar worked very hard and learned English and went to Bradford University to study Peace and Development…. Anowar escaped from the ongoing war in Darfur and chose this lovely country to study peace and development, because he love peace and was always looking to help vulnerable people. Being attacked and killed in such circumstance, we are as a family beyond pain.” Our thoughts are with Mansour and his family.
  • Members of a Sheffield church had an unexpected reaction when someone tried to break in to their caretaker’s flat. When they discovered the intruder was a homeless man seeking sanctuary they asked the police not to press charges, and donated £500 to a charity that helps destitute asylum seekers. “The night the incident happened, some of us had been listening to a refugee talk; organised by City of Sanctuary Sheffield,” said Minister David Shaw. “So we were very aware of the desperate situation people find themselves in if their application for sanctuary is turned down. This could be due to the difficulty of getting hold of the evidence to prove their case of persecution.” When the police were called to investigate, the intruder tried a second time to enter the building and it emerged he was just looking for somewhere to shelter for during the cold nights. “I think the congregation surprised themselves by their lack of anger,” said Rev Shaw. “One of them even expressed concern that the house would have been cold for the man, without any heating during the renovation work.” The donation has been passed on to the local charity ASSIST – Asylum Seeker Support Initiative, Short Term – which will use it to support asylum seekers who are unable to return home even though their applications have been turned down and state support is withdrawn.
  • Refugees and friends from across the world crammed into Highfield Trinity Church Hall to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the first ‘Gateway’ group resettling in Sheffield. These are refugees selected by the United Nations from refugee camps to start a new life in participating countries. Sheffield was the first city in the UK to take some of the 90 refugees the British Government agrees to take each year. Since 2004 the city has hosted families and individuals from Liberia, the Karen community in Burma, Bhutan, Sudan and elsewhere, under the scheme administered by the Refugee Council. Its Chief Executive Maurice Wren told more than 200 people assembled for anniversary celebration: “Everyone wins with Gateway. Refugees get an opportunity to put down roots as equal citizens, and host community benefit from the enormous potential and culture they bring.”
  • The leader of the Green Party met asylum seekers and support workers at the multi-agency drop-in at Victoria Hall during a fleeting visit to Sheffield. Natalie Bennett came to the city to support a demonstration against the Immigration Bill and took the opportunity to learn more about local organisations and meet individuals seeking sanctuary. The Bill, currently going through Parliament, will make life harder for many migrants by creating a hostile environment where landlords and health administrators will be required to check people’s immigration status, and many will lose the right to appeal against their immigration decision. You can read Ms Bennett’s blog about the Bill, and her visit to Sheffield, here.
  • Students at two Sheffield schools have raised nearly £1500 to help asylum seekers and refugees in the city. Pupils at Ecclesfield and Newfield Secondary schools had the idea of holding ‘no uniform’ days to support City of Sanctuary Sheffield (COSS), and ASSIST, after listening to talks about asylum. COSS Awareness Co-ordinator Rodrigo Edema and asylum seeking volunteers attended classes at both schools, where they talked to students about why they had to flee their countries and about life as a refugee. The pupils were inspired to do something to help and came up with the idea of the fund-raising days, asking fellow students to pay £1 not to wear uniform. Volunteers at Newfield also baked cakes which they sold between lessons. Big thanks to everyone involved!
  • Local people have been spreading the word about sanctuary at festivals taking place in Sheffield over the summer. Supporters of organisations such as City of Sanctuary Sheffield, ASSIST and Sheffield Conversation Club have attended events and distributed fliers explaining why people are forced to leave their countries. They’ve also provided information about all the different ways people can get involved. One of the highlights was an invitation to speak at the Tramlines Music Festival, where City of Sanctuary Sheffield trustee Ouattara Houadjotany (pictured) spoke about the importance of sanctuary for people fleeing persecution. This is one of a number of initiatives under the Summer of Sanctuary banner, funded by the Safer & Sustainable Communities Partnership.
  • Asylum seeker supporters in Sheffield marched through the city at the weekend as part of a national show of outrage over the number of people living in destitution as a result of Government policies. The protest called for a change in policy to allow people seeking sanctuary to support themselves by removing the ban on working. Supporters are angry that people whose asylum applications have been turned down but who can’t return home are left without any form of financial support. The Sheffield march was organised by South Yorkshire Migration & Asylum Action Group supported by City of Sanctuary Sheffield, ASSIST and the Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers (CDAS).
  • Hundreds of Sheffielders crowded into the Peace Gardens at the weekend to show their support for all the different cultures living peacefully side by side in the city. The event was organised by One Sheffield Many Cultures in collaboration with Peace in the Park to create an alternative focus while members of the English Defence League laid a wreath at the War Memorial in Barker’s Pool. Representatives from the City Council, Parliament, the European Parliament, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist faiths and City of Sanctuary Sheffield launched the open air concert with speeches declaring support for the city’s proud history of welcoming strangers. Afterwards music and dance performers from all over the world took to the stage in a seven hour display of unity and solidarity. The event was funded by Sheffield City Council.
  • City of Sanctuary Sheffield hosted a group of visitors from a similar movement in Germany to share experiences about welcoming refugees. The ‘Save Me’ campaign enlists volunteers to lobby the government to take more refugees into the country. It is active in 56 cities and the Minister has recommended that the Government distributes new refugees to those places where people have reacted positively to the campaign. During their visit to Sheffield the Save Me campaigners and others working with refugees in Munich attended an awareness raising session and joined in a Cafe Rendez-vous event (see photo) with French language students and francophone refugees.
  • Sheffield Councillors have voted unanimously to support a motion condemning the prevalence of destitution amongst people who’ve claimed asylum in the city. The resolution, proposed by Labour Cabinet member Councillor Geoff Smith and seconded by Councillor Sylvia Anginotti for the Liberal Democrats asks the Leader of the Council to write to the Home Secretary to express concern about asylum destitution and to call for changes in the current system. Representatives from asylum supporting groups (pictured) lobbied Councillors as they went in to the meeting.
  • City of Sanctuary Sheffield (COSS)celebrated its first five years of existence with a conference to generate ideas about where its work should focus in the future. Around 70 people attended the lively event at St Mary’s Church and conference centre, coming from different areas of activity in the city including education, health, faith groups, football and gardening projects. After talks about some of COSS’ current work participants broke into groups to consider how we should tackle issues such as awareness raising, campaigning, mission, building support, and opportunities. COSS trustees will consider all the comments and suggestions at an ‘awayday’ in April and use it to plan our strategy for the coming years.
  • The security firm G4S made a surprise appearance at the annual ASSIST carol service where they appeared as bodyguards to King Herod. In an updated version of the nativity story created by ASSIST stalwart Robert Spooner the congregation was also surprised to hear that the Sheffield-based charity had a new branch in Egypt, where Mary and Joseph were helped during their flight to safety. There was standing room only at St Mary’s Church for the event where parts in the nativity, including a well co-ordinated camel, were played by some of the people who’ve been helped by ASSIST – Asylum Seeker Support Initiative Short Term. Congratulations to all involved and for the continuing and vital work of that amazing group of volunteers who do so much to make Sheffield a real and living City of Sanctuary.
  • A poem inspired by the story of Sheffield refugee Lem Lem Hussain Abdu is featured in a ‘Digital Poetry Slam’ commissioned for the Off the Shelf literary festival. The project filmed 21 poets in 21 different locations across Sheffield – all venues used by the festival – to celebrate Off the Shelf’s 21st anniversary. River Wolton wrote the poem “Home” in July 2010 after Lem Lem was detained in Yarl’s Wood and it was used during the campaign that led to Lem Lem being granted discretionary leave to remain this summer. Film maker Nathan Gibson recorded River reading the poem at the Lantern Theatre in Nether Edge. You can see the performance here and then vote for it – or indeed one of the other 20 poems – by pressing the ‘vote’ tab on the 21poetsforsheffield website.
  • Sewing a welcome for Sheffield
    Volunteers and participants at Sheffield Conversation Club have helped create this fantastic new banner for the city. Assisted by art facilitator Cecilie Browne, the group sewed on their contributions over two sessions. The banner will make a regular appearance at the Wednesday drop-in at Victoria Hall and anyone holding refugee-related events is welcome to borrow it. The project was funded by Sheffield Safer and Sustainable Communities Partnership for Summer of Sanctuary.
  • Sheffield has been receiving international recognition as an example of refugee and migrant integration. Over the past month (May) City of Sanctuary has been invited to participate in three international events to showcase and discuss our work with colleagues from around the world. At a recent European conference organised by the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC), the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations (UN), Sheffield staff helped run a workshop on refugee integration in universities. At the same event, Sheffield Council’s Director of Community Services Jan Fitzgerald told delegates about the council’s pride in being the UK’s first City of Sanctuary. City of Sanctuary was also held up as an example of a ‘welcoming city’ at a seminar in Seville hosted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). And on Wednesday we will feature in an international ‘webinar’ discussing ‘good ideas’ in integration. To take part in this you can register on the Cities of Migration website here.
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