By Craig Barnett, Co-ordinator of the City of Sanctuary Movement
The Refugee Council is a national partner of the grassroots City of Sanctuary Movement, which aims to commit cities and towns across the UK to creating a culture of welcome for refugees and asylum seekers (www.cityofsanctuary.org).
When I first started talking to people about making Sheffield a ‘City of Sanctuary’ about three years ago, it sometimes seemed an impossibly optimistic idea. It was a vision of a city-wide movement of local groups, including the City Council, committed to welcoming and including people seeking sanctuary in the UK. Could it ever happen?
Yesterday in Sheffield, the first official City of Sanctuary, we held our first national conference. People came from over 20 towns and cities, from Glasgow to Portsmouth, to share ideas about how to create their own Cities of Sanctuary.
Journalists often ask me why Sheffield was the first place to become a City of Sanctuary. I usually find myself answering with some probably bogus stuff about our ‘multicultural history’. It’s probably more true just to say that people in Sheffield are basically good, decent people. I don’t think that’s unique to Sheffield either.
It has taken years of media scapegoating of ‘asylum-seekers’ to create the current climate of hostility towards them. But when people meet and get to know each other it is a different story. Sheffield is full of people who probably thought they didn’t like ‘asylum-seekers’ until they met and got to know them as neighbours and friends.
Becoming a City of Sanctuary is about creating opportunities for people to meet, by getting local groups to reach out to the refugees who live in their community. But can it happen all over the country? Sounds impossible…