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‘The refugee crisis: what will summer bring? A presentation to the Green Party Spring Conference at Harrogate on Saturday February 27th’


I am John Mellor. I come as a national Trustee of City of Sanctuary, not to be confused with Citizens UK. I currently am also a Volunteer with the Red Cross in their International Family Tracing Service.

City of Sanctuary has over 70 local refugee support groups in the UK and Ireland. It is not working in Eastern Europe or Calais.

To me, it is helpful to divide the question, ‘what will summer bring?’ into beyond Calais and in the UK. I suggest that beyond Calais the nature of the crisis will be driven by world events in which the Green Party is a small player and in which City of Sanctuary is an even smaller player.

I will speak therefore mainly about the UK but suggest 4 likely points from beyond Calais:

 Numbers of asylum seekers will increase to similar levels of last year

 There will be a greater level of chaos in Europe

 The migration across Europe will significantly boost the chance of Brexit.

 The manner of diminishing this effect must be for political parties to work together and make use of refugee support groups to maximise the message that migration of asylum seekers brings overwhelmingly benefits

Within the UK I believe that City of Sanctuary and the Green Party are both significant players. I want to start with a generalisation. Let me base my generalisation on what has recently happened with City of Sanctuary. As an organisation we have 1 full time member of staff and 4 part-time members of staff. We alongside the Refugee Council and the British Red Cross have been the UK based beneficiaries of the Guardian/Observer Christmas Appeal which raised £400,000 for each organisation. I suggest there are 2 conclusions. One is the generosity of the UK public who raised a record amount because of their concern for asylum seekers and refugees. The second conclusion is that a small organisation can still be recognised as a force for good and worthy of selection by the Guardian and Observer alongside much larger organisations like the Red Cross and Refugee Council.

‘Small can be beautiful’ City of Sanctuary is certainly small but it is effective. Relative to others the Greens may be small but they can be effective. So my generalisation is that size is not crucial. Energy combined with integrity counts for much.

I then wish to make a second generalisation which I believe applies equally to the Greens and City of Sanctuary. If you are small, to be effective you must work with others in harmony. I will illustrate in my talk how City of Sanctuary works with many others. First Parliamentarians Last Autumn we had a second Sanctuary in Parliament Day greatly assisted by Caroline Lucas. Over 60 MPS and Members of the Lords attended and could speak directly with asylum seekers and refugees. An occasion like that is inspirational for those asylum seekers and refugees and can also be inspirational for parliamentarians. To meet an asylum seeker who has waited over 10 years to get Leave to Remain concentrates the mind of most MPs. It also permits parliamentarians to form strong links with Sanctuary Groups. A basic principle in City of Sanctuary is to be sure that the voice of asylum seekers and refugees is heard directly wherever possible. You might be amused to find that all of the country was well represented at our day in Parliament with one exception. We had few MPs from the South of England – Caroline Lucas being an exception.

At national level City of Sanctuary coordinated a Sanctuary Summit in 2014 involving the major players on the refugee scene. We produced a Birmingham Declaration of best practice concerned with the welcome of asylum seekers and refugees, founded on decent values.

City of Sanctuary is all about welcome and integration.

The key philosophy of City of Sanctuary comes from ‘welcoming the stranger.’ This country had a wave of sympathy for this philosophy catalysed by the photo of the drowned Syrian toddler on September 2nd. We moved from having 40 plus local groups to 70 plus with many of the new groups coming from rural areas in contrast to the 40 largely placed in urban areas, dispersal centres. For City of Sanctuary the consequence of this wave of sympathy was the ease with which clothes, blankets, duvets, kitchen equipment and funds could be collected by local groups. In Ripon 10 miles from here 17 village Methodist Churches have collected for the drop-in centre in Hull and the Initial Accommodation Centre in Wakefield. Such collections are taking place throughout the UK. A simple activity can have wider implications. The lady who knits woolly hats for asylum seekers is inclined to speak to her neighbours about the merits of the country accepting our full share of asylum seekers. The person who transports the clothes to Hull is likely to tell his friends about the brilliant work which takes place in drop in centres.

But welcome can be taken a stage further. Arkengarthdale and Swaledale are linked with Tees Valley City of Sanctuary in first providing clothes etc but also in welcoming asylum seekers for visits to the Yorkshire countryside. People of the Dales in the area of Malham have hosted weekends for asylum seekers from Leeds and Bradford. Such contacts diminish the fear of the unknown.

Welcome at the level of a shared meal or in a host/guest relationship is simple to understand at an organisational level. At a more sophisticated level City of Sanctuary works through the Initial Accommodation Centres so that on arrival in a dispersal centre asylum seekers can be supported having already learned about their dispersal arrangements. They are met and shown the important features of their new home. City of Sanctuary organises city tours to indicate the faith centres, the medical centres and the drop-ins.

City of Sanctuary operates a number of Streams of Sanctuary. Several hundred schools are Schools of Sanctuary. In them the entering asylum seeker student can expect to have a buddy to assist in the welcome. The school can work to embed the principles of welcome and integration. There are now primary, secondary schools of sanctuary, colleges and universities of sanctuary. Some universities no longer charge asylum seekers international fees. In Leeds last Monday 230 students came to the City of Sanctuary meeting. In Refugee Week we work with Oxfam to promote their Young Ambassador Scheme.

We have a Schools Resource Pack and others in preparation, Faith; Maternity; Mental Health and Universities.

In the UK the incidence of maternal deaths associated with child birth was at least a factor of 10 higher than the average in the UK population. City of Sanctuary recognised that the problem was the failure of most asylum seekers to register with the doctors and hence complications remained undetected. As a result of a buddy system with experienced refugees speaking the appropriate language the problem can be avoided. The success of this NHS funded project has been publicised both in Westminster and Brussels and international conferences. The Royal College of Midwives has worked with City of Sanctuary to produce an e-module for all trainee midwives. This Stream in City of Sanctuary is the Maternity Stream. We work closely with the National Childbirth Trust. Another success is arranging training courses for clinical support workers appropriate to newly arrived refugees. It is a win win story. Life changing for refugees and a source of intelligent support workers for the NHS.

There are other Streams. There is an arts stream. The West Yorkshire Playhouse has been brilliant. Refugee Boy played there and in a further 10 theatres. The Playhouse has trained over 100 asylum seekers and refugees in public speaking so they can go to faith centres or organisations to speak. The message coming first hand is so much more powerful than the message second hand.

There is a faith stream. Derby Cathedral is a Cathedral of Sanctuary. Their work on homelessness has led to no street deaths recently in contrast to earlier years. We have a destitution project. You are aware that asylum seekers cannot work. Hence there is much abject destitution. At an End Asylum Destitution conference organised by City of Sanctuary in Bristol about 15 major Councils called upon central government to end destitution – the obvious ways are by permitting working – possible as the economy improves or through giving benefits.

Let me finish by returning to your title ‘what will summer bring?’ I will suggest some danger points from within the UK and others which relate to the role we can play beyond Calais.

First within the UK the proposed new Immigration Bill will likely become law with the following dreadful consequences:

 Illegal working and employment of illegal workers will be harshly treated.

 Housing will become a disaster area for refugees. Those with a right to be here will not be accepted by frightened landlords

 Landlords and bank staff will be faced with extra work – properly the work of the Home Office

 The right of appeal of asylum seekers will become much limited. Micah may speak of justice but in this country we have ineffective Legal Aid, a greatly diminished number of immigration legal workers and the threat that you make your appeal from outside the UK.

 Stopping support to asylum seeking families with children

Second, with the 2 major parties in a heightened state of disarray, who is going to have the interest in advocating justice for asylum seekers and refugees? Which party is not scarred with a disgraceful record of failure to support the rights of asylum seekers and refugees? The Greens are not scarred but I was discouraged to find few items of news concerning sanctuary issues in your last 2 months of news items. I believe there is a great opportunity to capture the attention of much of the nation, disgusted at the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees. This surely is a subject for the Green Party. I believe the refugee support agencies can work closely together and, although there are limits to acceptable campaigning for charities there would be immense goodwill in working with the Green Party for the benefit of asylum seekers and refugees.

And two points which concern Calais and beyond? Which political party is lobbying that we take our fair share of asylum seekers? Which political party is lobbying that there should be complete transparency concerning the stated role we have in Calais and the reality of how that role is being developed.

My dream for this summer: A coordinated response of European refugee support organisations  to the crisis in Europe and effective work with Government organisations to ensure an emphasis on human rights is respected.

Thank you for inviting me and I will be delighted to try and answer your questions now and maybe further later.

John Mellor

February 2016