There were about 200 groups shoe-horned into Committee Room 14 with presentations from organisations ( like Amnesty, Refugee Council and Freed Voices) and individuals, who were almost all refugees.
Most was good and moving and one piece sung! I’m delighted that refugees have not yet discovered “Power Point” and there was only one PP from Hay (who do Sanctuary Breaks see below) which displayed all the downsides including reading out each slide to the accompaniment of an entirely different one! Luckier delegates than me got to see their MP for a pre-arranged visit and discussion about the importance of Sanctuary and the Government’s important role.; mine was detained by “Ministerial commitments”
I tweeted merrily and got lots of likes but due to the rather cramped surroundings and people choosing not to wear their sticky badges it was hard to find people who I wanted to link with.
The main issues were well summed up at the beginning by the excellent Thangam Debonnaire MP for Bristol who kept speakers to their allotted time and jollied everyone along.
Mazen (refugee) said “We are here for peace and safety and a new life. We hope to go back to our country”
Steve (Amnesty) talked about UK pitiful record for family reunification. (Children once here, have no right -as adults do- to invite their families to join them). Looks like Family Reunion will be a big campaign next year.
Fardous ( a translator who had worked with children) said “the happiest moment of my life was when I saw the children reach safety in the UK”. But she said there was so much more to do.
Dave (Smith) from BOAZ discussed the plight of refugees and asylum seekers made destitute by the 28 day rule and the arbitrary working of the tribunal system. He said how important hosting schemes, such as Refugees at Home, are.
Johnathan (Red Cross) said that they had dealt with over 3000 cases of destitution already this year. The numbers were rising fast. As he said “We must make the case for protection and support”
Brecon, Hay and Talgarth with the “aid” of power point described their brilliant Sanctuary Breaks. They have done a lot and involve groups for a day in all the activities of their towns and villages including 3 square meals which always get eaten!
Wakefield were teaching British cooking skills ( that got a laugh) but refugees in West Yorkshire are now proficient in the dark-art of the perfick Yorkshire pud.
Maleka (Leicester) read two lovely but sad poems about war and fear. “The day you killed me with it, you told me the gun would be my best friend”.
Sohil and others talked about the paucity of legal aid and the problems it caused.
Amir (Freed Voices) described just how extreme our detention system is. “It is indeterminate and feels like a prisoner with a life sentence. It is so violent and hostile that it marks you forever”. He was told “What-ever happens here, stays here; no-one can hear your voice” An ugly sentiment reminding me of the Nazi Concentration Camps.
So it was both a sombre and happy occasion and good on City of Sanctuary for organising it. Like the best events it gave real voice to their customers who took the opportunity with both hands doleing out both plaudits and brickbats (and it’s clear we have alot of improving to do before we can claim any heavy-lifting medals in this area)
It felt honest and authentic and well worth it; thanks City of Sanctuary!