City of Sanctuary is a movement to build a culture of hospitality for people seeking sanctuary in the UK.
Many towns and cities are seeking recognition as places of safety and welcome. Sheffield, Bradford, Coventry, Bristol, and Swansea already have that status; others like Hull and Oxford are working to attain recognition.
The movement is intended to be from the ground upwards, not something imposed by Government or Local Authority. Therefore, support from individuals, local community groups, schools, universities, sporting organizations, voluntary and statutory bodies is not only welcome but essential.
We aim to gather pledges of support from all sectors of society. The City of York Council will be asked to seek recognition from the national organizers of City of Sanctuary, so that York may officially receive that status.
First of all, a big thank you to everyone who assisted in running our information stall on Saturday April 20th in Parliament Street. This was part of the Human Rights Festival. We were delighted to share with around 20 other organisations in meeting members of the public, handing out information, and answering questions.
The very next week, our stall returned on a windy and wet day for the International Festival of Faiths and Cultures, held in Parliament Street on Saturday April 27th. A wide range of cultural and faith communities were represented, and the stage area was in use throughout the day with music and dancing. The event was an excellent showcase for the diversity of our city. Many thanks must go to the organisers of what may become an annual event.
Refugee Week; 17-23rd June 2013:
’Different pasts-shared future’
starts with an information stall in the city centre on Saturday June 15th; 11am – 2.30pm. This is being arranged by Refugee Action York (RAY) but volunteer helpers from York City of Sanctuary are very welcome to assist. It is another event which raises our profile, as we meet members of the public and seek support for our work of creating a city of security and safety for all who need sanctuary.
Let me know if you can offer an hour of your time on that day.
Monday June 17th; Open House
at York Racial Equality Network (YREN); 10am – 12 noon; 20 Falsgrave Crescent,off Burton Stone Lane. That is also the office for YCoS and we hope you will come in and have a chat with some of our volunteers who will be on standby to make you some refreshments and talk about our work.
There is also a picnic in the park arranged for families who use the Refugee Action York Drop-in centre, on Saturday 29th June
The real need during Refugee Week and beyond is to ensure that you are equipped with the facts about refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. Demands for a debate and ‘action’ on the issue of immigration are growing, and has been placed on the map by UKIP, amongst others. The current level of debate can be spotlighted with just one example.
In the recent by-election at Eastleigh, a UKIP leaflet claimed that ‘Next year, the EU will allow 29 million Bulgarians and Romanians to come to the UK’. They asserted that this figure was based on research carried out in Romania. The truth is that the figure is based on adding up the total population of both countries. How realistic is it that the entire population of two European countries will migrate in one year to the UK?
Faced with such absurd figures, designed to needlessly frighten people, the curious reaction of the Government is to set in motion measures which will prevent migrants from accessing NHS healthcare, social housing, or benefits. This is in order to make the UK an ‘unpleasant destination for migrants’, according to one Government Minister. The presence of sick, destitute, and homeless migrants on the streets of our cities should be an equally unpleasant prospect to any UK citizen with an ounce of humanity in their body. Perhaps it is a more unpleasant prospect to those in power that UKIP came second in the Eastleigh by- election.
A significant section of the media continues to provide sensationalist, misleading, and inaccurate information about immigration. There will not be an informed debate if the truth is absent. It is time for more people to acquaint themselves with the facts, and start challenging the weary old myths and legends which are being offered up as reality.
The Refugee Council website (just type their name into your search engine for results) can provide up to date facts and figures which tell it as it really is. Order ‘Tell it as it is- the truth about asylum’ by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and when you have read it, pass it on. Or order a copy by post from Refugee Council, PO Box 68614, London E15 9DQ.
The website Refugee week 2013 provides assembly material for schools. On offer also is a range of ideas for simple acts which individuals can adopt to help change public perceptions in the face of media and political mis-information. Try the booklet’ Make your neighbourhood nicer’. They are on offer at 10 for £3. Buy a set and pass them around. Helping people to access the truth and get them thinking in ways that disturb their current perception is not going to be achieved overnight. Make a beginning of the task this Refugee Week.
A year gone by already?
I am sending out my very first Annual report as Co-ordinator, and I trust it will travel far and wide. You are among the first to receive a copy, and I hope that you are encouraged by the progress made in the past 12 months.
York City of Sanctuary Co-ordinator’s Annual Report:
(April 2012 – March 2013)
The past year has seen York City of Sanctuary move from being an ad hoc gathering of people committed to the outline vision of the Sanctuary movement, into an organisation with a constitution, an elected management group, a bank account with funding which takes us through to April 2014, a development plan which runs to 2015, our own website and a regular newsletter.
Further evidence of the growth is that by April 2012, 25 groups and organisations had signed resolutions of support and offered practical help to YCoS. By March of this year the number on our resolutions list had risen to 60. Our bi- monthly newsletter now goes out electronically and by post to 115 destinations. In April last year I sent out 50 copies. Over that time, the contents pages have doubled in numbers, reflecting our increasing involvement and engagement with activities and issues around those seeking sanctuary in the city.
In addition to the website, (for which thanks are due to Mike Fairey for setting up and managing of the site), and the Newsletter (for which thanks are due to Jim at YREN for admin), City of Sanctuary has advertised itself at a number of events over the past year.
Here are some of the ways we raised our profile;
- An Open House at the YREN HQ in Refugee Week – June
- An exhibition in the York Minster to mark Refugee Week- June
- A Stall at the 50 + Festival in the Guildhall – September
- A display of material at the Holocaust Memorial Civic event- January
It is important to meet our supporters face to face, and so we have held two open evenings (May ’12 and February ’13). In addition, we had our very first AGM in October ’12, at which we elected the management group of 15 members, and adopted the constitution which will guide the way we conduct ourselves and develop the organisation.
CONNECTED TO THE NETWORK
We value belonging to the wider network of Cities of Sanctuary, with new towns and cities being added to the list every month so it seems.
It was our privilege to host a gathering of 40 delegates from across the North of England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland to the Mansion House, York in July ’12. Councillor Sonja Crisp welcomed those present on behalf of the City of York Council. We are grateful for their support of that event, and of our work.
For the first time, York sent 3 delegates to the City of Sanctuary National Conference, held in a snowy January this year in Manchester.
Our engagement with those seeking sanctuary has included support and involvement with the visit to York from Hull Haven for Asylum seekers. This was arranged in August ‘12 by the Churches Together in New Earswick and Huntington, and they proved to be very good and welcoming hosts.
In February I met up with a group of refugees and asylum seekers coming from North Refugee Services in Teesside as guests of the York Minster Community Engagement Officer and the Chapter of the Minster. This also was a much appreciated visit, and historic York in the clear morning sunshine looked at its spectacular best.
The dynamic growth of the City of Sanctuary movement in York can in no small measure be attributed to the fruitful association with York Racial Equality Network (YREN). The offer to provide office space and administrative support at their centre taken up in March 2012 has proved a very valuable and supportive arrangement for which I am very grateful.
I have been able to draw on the long experience of that organisation in aspects of administering a small charity, in their knowledge of working across cultural boundaries, and their awareness of the issues faced by minority ethnic groups in York. It has also been very supportive to have colleagues with whom to share concerns and to draw on their wisdom.
Part of my work in the past year has also been to provide support and advocacy for individual refugees living in York. Issues around housing prove to be a major source of anxiety and stress to those seeking sanctuary in York. Employment, the stringent rules relating to those seeking work, and the difficulties in having qualifications obtained in other parts of the world recognised, add their own obstacles into the pain of seeking to find security and acceptance. Those who wish to be re-united with their families here in the UK face further struggles, which will now be much more costly, since legal aid is no longer available from April of this year.
SUPPORT AND ADVOCACY
I have found Refugee Action York with their weekly Drop in Centre and advice services most helpful. The Citizens Advice Bureau has also assisted a number of cases, and I am grateful to them for their knowledge and experience. The wider network of City of Sanctuary across the North of England has proved to be a helpful source of advice and assistance in particular cases. YREN has been able to give the kind of support which involves leaving the office desk and going with the client to deal with housing issues or other matters for which some form of advocacy and personal assistance is so essential. That support is one area which City of Sanctuary needs to explore so that such a service can be readily and regularly provided to sanctuary seekers.
£5000 was received from the City of York’s Transformation Fund administered as a Neighbourhood grant. That has funded our first full year, and enabled us to establish ourselves firmly, as this report indicates. The management group is appreciative of the support given by the Communities and Neighbourhoods team from the CYC, and in particular Adam Gray, during his time as senior partnership support officer.
For the year ahead, we have funding of £5000 from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation York Committee, and a further generous donation of £1000 from a local charitable trust. This will enable us to fulfil our budget targets up to March 2014. A further donation has been received specifically to be applied to hardship and emergency situations, and that will be a source of help to a number of people over the coming year. We are grateful for the support given to us financially, and it is a great encouragement to us.
THE CURRENT SITUATION FOR REFUGEES IN YORK
The reality is that the numbers of refugees in the city is quite small. I have met people from Rwanda, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe, Syria, and a number of Kurdish families, mainly from Turkey. York is not a ‘dispersal city’, so those who are moving out of the Asylum seekers centres, as their applications to remain in the UK are being processed, are not re-located to this city, but to Hull, Middlesbrough, Leeds, Sunderland, or Bradford, to name but a few Northern cities.
It does mean that refugees in York can feel very isolated, and the city does not have specialists in legal advice, nor large scale support groups from their own backgrounds and cultures. The Refugee Action York Drop in Centre provides some excellent support which is particularly appreciated by Kurdish families, and is well supported with volunteers. An informal meeting point in a more central location, and on a day other than Sunday, when most agencies offices are closed, is a development which some refugees have indicated would be helpful.
The crisis in provision of socially affordable housing in the city is made clear when refugees seek accommodation. Private sector rents are amongst the highest in the North of England, (a fact not taken into account by housing benefit payments). There is also the reality of 4500 already on the CYC waiting list. The danger of becoming homeless is one which has only just been averted in a number of cases, and in other instances, has not been averted. Such stress and anxiety for refugees and their families adds to the trauma which they have experienced in leaving their countries of origin.
The new rules on housing benefits payments, tough sanctions on jobseekers allowances, and the ending of legal aid add poverty to the list of problems to be faced if refugees and those granted asylum seek to make York their home. As a city which rightly takes pride in its initiative on Fairness, there is clearly much work to be done if it also can claim to be a community in which sanctuary seekers feel welcome and supported. However, the scale of the situation is not insurmountable and over whelming, as some sections of the media would have us believe. With the goodwill and support which already exists, and a growth in understanding the particular issues faced by sanctuary seekers, York can present a model of a culture of hospitality for those in need of safety. That is work in progress, and York City of Sanctuary will be working on that agenda, in partnership with many others, in the year ahead.
Paul Wordsworth: May 14th 2013
Search the Net
Pick up the latest stories from the UK’s national media, as monitored by the Refugee News Network. Access the site by typing the heading into Google or other search engine.
Look up the events being organised by York Amnesty by going to http://www.twitter.com/yorkamnesty.
Learn more about the York Human Rights City Project at www.yhrcproject.co.uk
I am happy to speak to school groups, faith community meetings, special interest groups, and voluntary organisations about the work of City of Sanctuary. If you’d like me to visit a group of which you are a member, contact me at;
Paul Wordsworth (YCoS Co-ordinator)
20 Falsgrave Crescent,
Room for More
62 organisations, groups, and communities are registered with York City of Sanctuary.
Over the last month, we welcomed resolutions signed by;
- St.Edward the Confessor CE Church, Dringhouses;
- St.Stephen’s and St Aidan’s CE churches, Acomb;
You can find the Resolution document on our website;
Or contact me and I will send you a copy. Check the full list in this newsletter to see if your organisation is signed up.
Managing the Money:
our bank account is; ‘York City of Sanctuary.’ Cheques made out to that name can be posted to the Co-ordinator.
Walk Against Crime
is supporting a community project in Nairobi, Kenya, which seeks to get children and young people off the streets and away from crime. The plan is to bring a group of dancers from the project to the UK during August of this year, and that they should stay in York for one week. Plans are well advanced for this, and funds are being raised. Transporting the group around will be important, and the organisers are looking to find a volunteer with a DI licence to drive a minibus. Any offers from our network?
Contact email@example.com if you can help.
For further information about this exciting and ambitious programme go to firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Jeremy Piercy, MD of Shared Earth, York. 01904 655314
Groups and organizations signed up to YCoS: May 2013
Refugee Action York;
City of York Council Executive and Cabinet;
York Council for Voluntary Service;
Unison- York City branch; York Green Party;
York Link Network;
North Yorkshire area Committee of the Co-op Group;
Future Prospects- York:
York Racial Equality Network;
York and District Citizens Advice Bureau;
Palestinian Solidarity Campaign;
Amnesty International – York;
York Older Peoples Assembly;
Clements Hall Trust;
York Anglo-Scandinavian Society;
Fairer World Shop- Gillygate;
Alliance Francaise de York;
Pisces Music UK;
York Ecumenical Justice and Peace Group:
York LGBT Forum:
OLGA (Older Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans Association);
York St. John University;
The Mount School, York:
Archbishop Holgate’s School;
University of York Community and Volunteering Unit;
York St. John Chaplaincy;
University of York Chaplaincy;
York University Student Union Action for Refugees (STAR);
Centre for Global Education, York:
York Community Chaplaincy;
Churches Together in York;
York Inter Faith Group;
Baha’i Faith in York;
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints- York;
Friargate Quaker Meeting; Acomb Quaker Meeting;
New Earswick Quaker Meeting:
The Salvation Army (York);
St. Columba’s URC- Priory St. York;
St.Giles CE Church, Copmanthorpe;
Clifton Parish CE Church;
St.Edward the Confessor CE Church, Dringhouses;
St.Stephen’s and St Aidan’s CE churches, Acomb;
St.Hilda’s CE Church, Tang Hall;
St.Lawrence CE Church, Hull Road;
St.Thomas with St.Maurice CE Church- The Groves;
St.Michael-le-belfry CE Church, York;
The Chapter of York Minster;
St.Andrew’s Fellowship, Bishopthorpe:
Bishopthorpe Local Ecumenical Partnership;
Churches Together in Huntington and New Earswick;
Copmanthorpe Methodist Church; Huntington Methodist Church;
Trinity Methodist Church, York;
St.Paulinus RC Church, York;
York Carmelite Spirituality Group;
St. Aelred’s (RC) Saint Vincent de Paul Group;
The Congregation of the Jesus Community, Bar Convent, York
Saint Anne’s House, The Groves, York