There are three narratives that dominate the discussion of refugees in the UK. On the right there are the self-contradicting narratives of the ‘scrounging layabout’ and the ‘job stealer’, while the left often succumbs to the liberal view of the ‘victim’ in need of charity.
One project helping to challenge these stereotypes is City of Sanctuary. It is facilitating conversations between people who may hold those right-wing views and the migrants themselves while at the same time ensuring that refugees become active participants in creating a better life for themselves and their peers.
The project started in Sheffield six years ago. Since then it has grown into a network of 15 towns and cities, with the core aim of ‘welcoming asylum seekers and refugees’. But it is now also doing much more.
Structure and dynamics
Each city project shares three main characteristics: to highlight the contribution of asylum seekers to host communities; to form relationships with people in the host community; and to develop a culture of hospitality and welcoming. But key to the movement’s success is the fact that each area has its own ‘structure and dynamics’.
As Penny Walker, co-ordinator of Coventry City of Sanctuary, explains: ‘Each city is set up differently: some as charities, some as loose networks. In Coventry we are a network of organisations… We look at what needs doing and where and each organisation applies for different bits of funding.’
‘It is truly a people-led movement,’ she adds. Local people play a key role – it is their existing projects, clubs and societies that offer a welcoming arm to those who need it.
Sarah Eldridge, Sheffield co-ordinator, says: ‘It taps into feelings that are already there. Sheffield has a long history of welcoming refugees. For instance, in the 1970s many people came from Pinochet’s Chile.’ It’s the simple things like inviting people to local chess clubs or cultural events that make the difference, she explains.
Over 100 groups are now part of the network. They have worked alongside the Children’s Society, who go with refugees into local schools to share their experiences with pupils. They have also worked with Ice and Fire drama group and the Co-op to put on events with asylum seekers so that local people can learn about the experience of refugees.
It’s the refugees themselves who are taking the lead – and beginning to mould City of Sanctuary into a movement that mixes a DIY ethos with a broad base.
A good example is in Coventry, where a group of migrants and refugees, with the help of City of Sanctuary, set up and now run a hate crime helpline. As well as answering calls from people who have suffered racist abuse, they also help people who have suffered due to disability or other hate crimes, reaching out far beyond their comfort zone. Those involved also visit vulnerable groups and individuals, such as those taking English classes, letting people know they don’t have to suffer alone or in silence.
This trend is typified by Forward, a Zimbabwean refugee. He arrived in the UK in 2002 and is now heading up Bristol’s project. As an English-speaking journalist, he found it relatively easy to make the move the UK, but understands that for others the move is not so simple. He recently helped to organise a human rights day where people talked about ‘their experiences in Bristol and their journeys’. This he felt was important both for local people who could gain a better understanding, and also for the refugees who were able to tell their own stories.
The process has not been without its challenges, but these are beginning to take new forms. In past the model sometimes hasn’t translated for cultural or political reasons, while in other cases it has been difficult to instil what has been described as an ‘intangible’ idea.
Now things are different. ‘All the good work done over many years is now under threat due to government cuts and at a really bad time,’ says Penny Walker. ‘It comes on the back of what seems like an increase in the amount of hatred, and the recession has had an impact on this, especially to do with jobs. Good projects are under threat as well as council services.’
Sarah Eldridge agrees. ‘The economic climate is a challenge. People feel insecure and unsettled, losing jobs and money.’ She believes that under such circumstances people find it ‘harder to extend the hand of welcome to people different from themselves’.
But this has only stiffened their resolve. As Penny Walker puts it, ‘the recession means we have to carry on and do even more.’ She believes that City of Sanctuary is and must be one part of something much wider.
‘We need to give individuals practical help, but we also need to be campaigning,’ she says. ‘It’s about more than just the person in front of you. It’s about the global situation, the arms trade, the draconian asylum system and the UK’s role in the world. We need to change people’s hearts and minds – but also the systems that make people destitute.’
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to witness devastating political violence, but the world refuses to act. Ishiaba Kasonga and Serge Egola Angbakodolo ask why?
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
The election result has irreversibly changed political discourse in the UK, writes James Fox
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Bernie Grant's election to parliament, Ayo Wallace explores the life and legacy of his radical representation of Tottenham's black communities.
Across Britain, hundreds of thousands of people have now taken part in mass rallies for Corbyn's Labour. Eli Regan soaks up the atmosphere in Warrington
The under-30s could be decisive in the general election. Frances Grahl meets young people hit by Tory austerity and looks at what's driving their support for Labour
“To them it’s just another number, someone else being sent back. But when you’ve got three children being left without their dad … it’s quite major,” writes Rebecca Omonira-Okeykanmi.
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now
The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee
Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell
Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths
Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe
How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency
Empire en vogue
Nadine El-Enany examines the imperial pretensions of Britain's post-Brexit foreign affairs and trade strategy
Grenfell Tower residents evicted from hotel with just hours’ notice
An urgent call for support from the Radical Housing Network
Jeremy Corbyn is no longer the leader of the opposition – he has become the People’s Prime Minister
While Theresa May hides away, Corbyn stands with the people in our hours of need, writes Tom Walker
In the aftermath of this disaster, we must fight to restore respect and democracy for council tenants
Glyn Robbins says it's time to put residents, not private firms, back at the centre of decision-making over their housing
After Grenfell: ending the murderous war on our protections
Under cover of 'cutting red tape', the government has been slashing safety standards. It's time for it to stop, writes Christine Berry
Why the Grenfell Tower fire means everything must change
The fire was a man-made atrocity, says Faiza Shaheen – we must redesign our economic system so it can never happen again
Forcing MPs to take an oath of allegiance to the monarchy undermines democracy
As long as being an MP means pledging loyalty to an unelected head of state, our parliamentary system will remain undemocratic, writes Kate Flood
7 reasons why Labour can win the next election
From the rise of Grime for Corbyn to the reduced power of the tabloids, Will Murray looks at the reasons to be optimistic for Labour's chances next time
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 25 June
On June 25th, the fourth of Red Pepper Race Section's Open Editorial Meetings will celebrate the launch of our new black writers' issue - Empire Will Eat Itself.
After two years of attacks on Corbyn supporters, where are the apologies?
In the aftermath of this spectacular election result, some issues in the Labour Party need addressing, argues Seema Chandwani
If Corbyn’s Labour wins, it will be Attlee v Churchill all over again
Jack Witek argues that a Labour victory is no longer unthinkable – and it would mean the biggest shake-up since 1945
On the life of Robin Murray, visionary economist
Hilary Wainwright pays tribute to the life and legacy of Robin Murray, one of the key figures of the New Left whose vision of a modern socialism lies at the heart of the Labour manifesto.
Letter from the US: Dear rest of the world, I’m just as confused as you are
Kate Harveston apologises for the rise of Trump, but promises to make it up to us somehow
The myth of ‘stability’ with Theresa May
Settit Beyene looks at the truth behind the prime minister's favourite soundbite
Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for a political organiser
Closing date for applications: postponed, see below
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.