Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Seeking sanctuary

Tim Hunt explores a project that fosters local support and practical help for asylum seekers

May 15, 2011
5 min read


Tim HuntTim Hunt is a Red Pepper commissioning editor.


  share     tweet  

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.

Refugees lead

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.

Challenges

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.’

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Tim HuntTim Hunt is a Red Pepper commissioning editor.


The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics

Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.

Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making

Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi

Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun

Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh

With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair

A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook

‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali

Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards

Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.

Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent

Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art

Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs

Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox

Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole

Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite


1