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Delegates from 14 City of Sanctuaries gather in York for regional event

Report on Yorkshire and Humber Regional Meeting, York October 1st 2016

City of Sanctuary status was awarded to the City of York at a meeting at the Quaker Meeting House attended by the Lord Mayor of York and Rachael Maskell, MP.  Paul Wordsworth reviewed the history of the York City of Sanctuary Group.

The meeting attracted 14 City of Sanctuary Groups and 57 visitors. It was a dual celebration of the work of the City of York and the Groups of Yorkshire, both those with a rich history of achievement and those newly created and developing within the last year. City of Sanctuary has a strong presence in the larger cities, Bradford, Hull, Leeds and Sheffield to which many asylum seekers have been and continue to be dispersed. Similarly dispersal continues to Barnsley, Doncaster, Calderdale, Kirklees and Wakefield. In contrast this was the first Regional Meeting to learn of new and developing Groups in Aire Valley, Bentham, Keighley, Malhamdale, Otley, Ripon and Skipton. There were 14 short presentations from local groups. The recent developments have been stimulated both by the ‘Revolution of Generosity.’ a reaction to the crisis in Syria and also by the Government resettlement programme placing Syrians in the semi-rural and rural areas of the UK. Appropriately York celebrated City of Sanctuary status, although not a city of historic dispersal of asylum seekers but one which has a mission to support asylum seekers and refugees both within the City walls and also in the County of Yorkshire.cofs_badge_arts_final

The meeting had many highlights aside from the Award to York and also of a Sanctuary Award to the SBC Theatre Company for their production of ‘Tanja,’ a powerful play set in the infamous Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre.

Bill Dennis of Migration Yorkshire provided an overview of the different schemes whereby asylum seekers and refugees are placed in Yorkshire. Dispersal continues to the traditional centres of dispersal at the level of about 5,000 presently supported in Yorkshire and Humberside (Y and H), and is likely to continue, with no diminution of numbers in the medium-term, but as a result of the Syrian Resettlement (VPR) Programme small numbers of Syrians will be placed throughout Yorkshire.  1,600 – 1,800 are expected and 463 have arrived so far in Y and H. Details of Syrian resettlement were described by Richard Orton of the Refugee Council. Judy Rogers gave excellent examples of twinning activities linking Groups from urban and more rural areas.

Lorna Gledhill of Regional Asylum Activism explained their explained their work of informing and shifting attitudes about asylum seekers and refugees. A focus has been to make changes to the asylum system to avoid destitution, improve access to healthcare and give permission to work. The present concerns are increased by the new Immigration Act and Asylum Support with the aims described by James Brokenshire, then Minister for Immigration, “To crack down on abuse and build an immigration system that truly benefits Britain – by deterring illegal migrants from coming and making it harder for those already here to live and work in the UK.” Consequences of this policy will be destitute families with no support for adults or children and a denial of all free health care. A further consequence is the inaction on the part of the UK Government in failing to permit unaccompanied minors, who have valid expectations to be allowed to join relatives in the UK, from doing so. In a session of any other business the issue of unaccompanied minors was raised by Mike Reynolds from Sheffield. A short discussion led to the conclusion that the meeting representing Yorkshire and Humberside City of Sanctuary wished to express their disgust. It was requested that the views of Yorkshire and Humberside should be transmitted to the national network of City of Sanctuary. It was recognised that it might be desirable to join with others in a Sanctuary Alliance to express a common view.

The afternoon session was largely devoted to discussion of the Streams of Sanctuary. Rose McCarthy reviewed her time in post as Coordinator of Streams and described the many initiatives in the Health Stream and the Maternity Stream. From initial developments in Yorkshire in the Health and Maternity Streams there is an emerging picture of growth of similar activities in other regions including, the Midlands, the Manchester area and South Wales.

Mary Blacka similarly reviewed the exciting developments in Schools of Sanctuary. At a national level there are both developments stimulated by local City of Sanctuary Groups but in other areas the leadership of Schools of Sanctuary projects has come from elsewhere, e.g in Liverpool from School Improvement Liverpool. In Yorkshire and Humberside there are established projects in Bradford, Leeds, Sheffield and Wakefield.  New Schools of Sanctuary projects are emerging in Calderdale, Kirklees and North Yorkshire. Mary finished her talk with the following, ‘The Schools Stream is just getting recognition and purchase more widely.  I have recently been approached, on behalf of Catholic chaplains in schools, to see if anyone from City of Sanctuary can speak at their national conference next June.  Within the last few days I – and some others in the room – have received an e-mail from the Senior Media Officer for the Archbishops’ Council asking what Church of England Schools are doing to welcome refugees and how many are signed up to Schools of Sanctuary. Responding to these requests and implementing my suggestions requires a strong central organisation for Schools of Sanctuary.’ In discussion concerns were expressed concerning the details of Awards, but there was strong support for the promotion of Streams in the key areas of Health, Maternity and Schools.

Points to take forward

  • There are about an equal number of well established and emerging Groups in Yorkshire
  • Both the York Group and others in more rural areas are supporting not only Syrian refugees placed in the VPR Programme, but also asylum seekers and refugees from any other countries, in part through twinning activities.
  • The consequences of the new Immigration Bill designed to create a ‘hostile environment’ require urgent discussion by the sanctuary alliance and action.
  • The inaction with respect to unaccompanied minors should be confronted.
  • The 2 presenters of Streams of Health and of Schools made strong cases for consolidation of the Streams programmes and received support from the meeting.
  • The detail of sanctuary awards remains a concern for some.
  • Sanctuary in Parliament will be on Tuesday November 29th


John Mellor 7/10/16