Dignity and Sanctuary: What welcome means in the UK

8 October 2015
Jessica Kennedy

Britain has a proud history of providing sanctuary to those who need it and that history has never felt more live. It has been heart-warming for us at The Forum to be on the receiving end of an outpouring of support and welcome across the country: 600 landlords have offered houses to those newly arriving, 9,000 families have offered to foster refugee children, 1.4 million people have signed a welcome petition and nearly one in three Britons have done something to welcome refugees.

This is a normal human response to a global refugee crisis that the world is currently facing, which has seen more people fleeing war, persecution and violence than at any time in history.

That tradition needs to be protected. Alongside others like Citizens UK for the past two years we have been calling for a response to refugee protection based on dignity: dignity on the way into the UK for those seeking sanctuary – and dignity in the UK when people arrive.

The Immigration Bill which will have its second reading in parliament next Tuesday 13th October sets out proposals which will end very basic support for families and force them into destitution. The new Bill also prevents people from functioning as fellow citizens alongside the rest of us by making it impossible to have a bank account, driving licence or find a place to live.

At The Forum every day we see those people who have been caught by a system that allows them no dignity. We see refugees who get status and immediately become homeless, relying on our handouts whilst they wait for their National Insurance number, running from bank to bank unable to open a bank account without which they cannot get benefits or find a job. We see families with young children who are destitute, in desperate need for food and baby clothes, unable to survive without generous donations from their fellow Britons. People who have fled an oppressive state that detained and tortured them are stopped and searched on the street by immigration officers. Vulnerable people with mental health issues are held in prison-like conditions indefinitely for administrative reasons.

Yet, over the last six weeks we have seen that the British people are overwhelmingly welcoming to those in need. We are now asking all people of good will to make sure that Britain remains a truly welcoming and safe place we can all be proud of.

There are two things we need you to do urgently:

1. Contact your MP about the Immigration Bill

The Immigration Bill will make it harder to people seeking sanctuary to integrate into the UK. See the following links for detailed briefings from Free Movement blog, Migrants Rights Network and Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants. Please, contact your MP by email, phone or in person, share with them your concerns about the new Immigration Bill and urge them to attend and contribute to the debate for its second reading on Tuesday 13 October.

Theresa May herself admits, “we do have a moral duty to help people in need. We should play our part.”

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Yes we need a robust system. Yes we need a system that is fit for purpose, where decisions are made promptly and fairly – at The Forum, we work hard every day to make the system responsive to those going through it. Playing our part means facing up to the tough reality that helping people in need means abandoning arbitrary caps on the numbers entering the country. Playing our part means engaging in European and global efforts to safeguard the millions fleeing violence, war and persecution.

We cannot allow political expediency to undermine the goodwill of so many thousands across the UK who have offered their homes, their donations and their welcome. So:

2. Join us outside Parliament on Tuesday 13th October at 6.30pm to stand in solidarity with Syrian refugees who are still waiting to find sanctuary.

The UK has so far directly resettled a few hundred Syrian refugees. That is not enough. People around the country are organising to welcome them – we are ready. And as winter is coming to the region, we need to prevent more children dying of cold in the camps. We are worried that resettlement so far has been too slow and too low – at current rates the government will fail to hit their own target of 20,000 people resettled by 2020 at this rate. Vulnerable people in desperate need of help have been identified and they are waiting – we are ready and willing to welcome them here, before the winter comes.

Join us to send the message of support and solidarity: we will also be collecting baby clothes to add to welcome packs for newly resettled families.

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Finally, your contributions of financial support, clothing, food and your time as a volunteer remain crucial. Please be in touch with info@mrcf.org.uk or fill in our online form to offer your support.

 

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