With the world facing its biggest refugee crisis since World War II, Members of Parliament will have a unique opportunity on Tuesday 29 November to come face to face with some of the ‘mother of parliaments’ greatest admirers – refugees who have made long and hazardous journeys to seek sanctuary in Britain.
Many have fled reprisals because they spoke out against their own leaders. The event, which will include hearing refugee testimonies, music and poetry, coincides with a Parliamentary debate on refugee family reunion taking place later on Tuesday in Westminster Hall.
Swindon is sending four members from Swindon City of Sanctuary and will be attending with five refugees from Swindon. They will have a private meeting with Robert Buckland during the event, and Ali a visitor of the Harbour Project will be singing in Kurdish during the event at parliament.
Nicola Johnson, chair of Swindon City of Sanctuary, said: “Refugees are people like us who have been forced to flee their homes and leave everything behind for fear of persecution.
“We believe in the human instinct of ordinary people to be hospitable and sympathetic towards them, especially if they meet face to face. Our local group hopes to create opportunities for refugees and local people to meet and share life, in activities as varied as football, conversation clubs and antenatal classes while improving the welcome in health, education and civic society.”
Hosted by Bristol West MP Thangam Debbonaire, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees (APPGR), the annual event promotes the work of the City of Sanctuary movement to remind the public about Britain’s proud history of providing welcome and safety to those fleeing persecution.
Ms Debbonaire said: “Sanctuary in Parliament gives us the opportunity to learn about the refugee crisis from the perspective of people who are living in the midst of it. It’s an honour to have the chance to hear about people’s stories, struggles, and hopes for the future. Thank you to everyone who has come to share their testimonies with us.
“I’ve been taking evidence from refugees about their experiences in this country, as part of a public inquiry I initiated called ‘Refugees Welcome?’.
“Many people and communities are welcoming refugees, but I’m concerned that the processes of applying and settling here are still so full of problems, often causing destitution or periods of homelessness. This needs sorting out.”
The multi media event has drawn over 150 refugees and their supporters from over seventy City of Sanctuary groups across UK and Ireland. They are all keen to share their local experience in the City of Sanctuary movement with their local MPs.
The City of Sanctuary network encourages practical ways for ordinary citizens to demonstrate solidarity with, and support for refugees in their own communities. It promotes a grassroots ‘culture of hospitality,’ through local voluntary music, sports, education, health and arts initiatives. First established in Sheffield in 2005, CoS now has groups established or starting up in almost 80 cities, towns and villages across the UK and beyond.