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56 people (including 16 refugees) attended a buzzing regional meeting hosted by Birmingham City of Sanctuary at the Quaker Meeting House on Saturday 11th January. 8 Midlands cities were represented and speakers / visitors also came from Bradford, Leeds, Manchester and Dublin. We were reminded of the importance and usefulness of the Developing a Culture of Welcome paper to support new and existing groups. This paper informs the Sanctuary Awards, as a vehicle for the streams, for those groups and organisations who recognise the positive contribution of refugees and asylum seekers and actively promote a culture of inclusive welcome. We heard about awards across the streams of sanctuary and discussed the Schools, Maternity, Health and Faith streams. Zimbabwean asylum seekers drummed and sang providing added energy to the enthusiasm and shared stories. We also learned about the plans for a national Sanctuary Summit in the autumn to bring together everyone in the asylum / refugee movement.

Birmingham, a city of one million people, kicked off with news of the wide range of support from faith groups, the city council, civic society, libraries and schools. The group is successfully reaching out to influence with words and ideas. Wolverhampton continues to educate and inform, seeking to build a momentum of support which the city council will be unable to ignore. Coventry has monthly networking meetings with a range of refugee support projects and several relevant arts events. Leicester told of the successful drop-in and the New Evidence Search Team projects and funding grants for new work and equipment. One of the Leicester asylum seekers spoke eloquently of the hardships and barriers faced by asylum seekers. Derby refugee support organisations network regularly, and we heard about a Welcome box for new arrivals scheme from Upbeat Communities and the seeds of a housing project for failed asylum seekers. Oxford’s work includes support around the Detention Centre at Campsfield, mentor and welcome schemes. The local Emmaus Housing project has two solidarity places for failed asylum seekers and offer a model that could be rolled out. Luton and Bedfordshire are still new with some support at the university and activities during Refugee week. The Arimathea Trust represented Nottingham where various Refugee support groups are working with the Playhouse in preparation for Refugee Boy.

A group discussed the wonderful opportunities offered by Refugee Boy which is playing in 4 Midlands venues cities including Oxford, Birmingham and Ipswich. There were great ideas for awareness raising and using the Refugee Boy play, in a mainstream theatre, to engage the public and local schools in asylum issues and to recruit new supporters. The Oasis Church near the Midlands Initial Accommodation Centre explained how their welcome meals developed and the good support offered to new applicants. A useful input from Birmingham Refugee Council helped us consider the unforeseen impact of the new Home Office contracts for advocacy and support of asylum seekers lost by the Refugee Council and partners, after 14 years of successful delivery, and now awarded to Migrant Help, who will take over from 1st April this year. Their service delivery plan will be announced soon which should provide an indication of the impact of this change.

Ideas were shared, questions answered and new relationships forged. One of the many highlights was the proposal for a new project by Pam Inder “What’s Going Wrong” to catalogue all the Home Office mistakes that impact so severely on asylum seekers and to regularly feedback this evidence to influence positive improvements in the asylum process. A team was formed to kick-start this project and everyone felt that organisations across the refugee sector would contribute. The PowerPoint presentation is attached.
Thank you to all participants and speakers who travelled to share their expertise and experience with each other. Full reports from each city and the five workshops are to be collated and will be available on request soon from [email protected]

Attachment Size
What’s Going Wrong? PP Presentation 439 KB