Case Study of Public Meeting in North East
This was hosted online by City of Sanctuary and Asylum Matters to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the UN Refugee Convention and brought together nearly 60 people with local dignitaries, decision makers, NGOs and community organisations. These included Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham, MPs Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) , a rep from Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) and Councillors Alison Barnes (Cabinet Member Redcar & Cleveland) and Sajna Ali (Darlington ) amongst others.
There was powerful testimony from people with lived experience of sanctuary who were “sad” and “frightened” by the new legislation which would prevent them from finding protection here.
Law student and activist Md presented some key changes to the right to claim asylum in the Borders Bill and how it would criminalise people struggling to find safety, describing as “real nastiness”. See his informative and helpful Border Bill Presentation Slides.
CoS UK staff member, Sara Trewhitt shared examples of community institutions like Newcastle University, schools, libraries, the Newcastle United Football Club and the Curious Monkey Theatre Company are all building welcoming spaces and exchanging learning on creating safety and unity. See these lovely slides Celebrating welcome in the NE July 2021.
Asmaa from Syria shared a painful story from the refugee camp where she gave birth and all newborns were evacuated in an emergency after flooding. She was excited, scared and sad to rebuild her life in the UK.
“No one likes to be a refugee. No-one likes to leave their home. No-one likes to lose their friends and family.”
Bini said that we may be celebrating the 70th Anniversary UN Refugee Convention, but on its 71st anniversary, we would “mourn the UN Refugee Convention”. He also reminded us that many authoritarian regimes like Eritrea did not provide passports for their citizens. This meant that oppressed people simply cannot leave their countries “legally”. The Borders Bill will mean that no one could ever seek sanctuary in the UK – a “massive change”.
Asma talked about the hardships she had experienced and the lack of choices in life if your life was in danger. The government was going to make it harder for people who simply sought to save their lives.
Sara explained how the ‘normal’ asylum system already damaged peoples’ mental health. “This bill will only worsen it!”
Ian said the new law made him “ashamed to be British”.
Fran called for solutions to the problems of trafficking and said we needed to state the cold hard facts of the costs of inefficiency , delays and detention.
Suzanne called for mutual support. “Our hearts go out to people like Md and others who are exhausted” from campaigning for basic rights and human dignity.