On 29th March a City of Sanctuary motion was carried in Brighton & Hove City Council with support from all the main political parties represented in the council. It welcomed “the good work going on in the city to make it a welcoming, inclusive and supportive community which offers safety to those who need it“.
Let’s take a closer look at that‘good work’:
In living memory the city has provided home for Jews and other European refugees fleeing communist governments after the Second World War.
Whilst we are not a ‘dispersal area’ for asylum seekers, the city still has large communities from Sudan, Egypt, Iran and many other countries from which people have had to flee persecution over recent years.
In 2006 the city received a group of 79 refugees from Kenya under the government’s Gateway Protection Programme. Originally from Ethiopia, this group of mainly Oromo households had lived for many years in very difficult conditions in UN refugee camps. They have since settled here and become British citizens.
Brighton & Hove has a large, diverse and innovative voluntary and community sector. There are lots of groups working alongside the sanctuary seekers of the city.
All of these groups are members of Brighton & Hove Refugee & Migrant Forum. This Forum has existed since the arrival of Sudanese refugees in the city in the early 1990s. Hosted and administered by the City Council, quarterly meetings provide an information exchange on issues of interest to those working in this field. The objective of the Forum has always been “to ensure that refugees and migrants living within the Brighton & Hove area have access to the services and information they need to enable them to play their full part in the social, cultural and economic life of the local community”. A directory of services is produced by the City Council to that end.
Some members of that Forum have now come together to form the steering group for Sanctuary on Sea, aware that there is much more we could do to meet the Forum’s objectives.
Amongst our unique and wonderful local initiatives we have:
- The Migrant English Project provides drop-in English classes for up to 40 refugees, asylum seekers and migrants per week. It has been run by volunteers for over a decade. It has published ‘Refuge’, the accounts of a number of refugees who have settled in Brighton and Hove (https://mepbrighton.com/publications-refuge-2/ ), and a book of world recipes will be in print soon.
- The Black & Minority Ethnic Community Partnership has been running a One Stop Shop for refugees and asylum seekers for many years where people can get a range of support including counselling, welfare benefits advice and help to report hate crime directly to the council and the police. BMECP also hosts the ‘community champions’, many of whom are refugees and migrants themselves. The champions work to spread knowledge and understanding about their communities – for example through ‘diversity learning walks’ in schools, ensuring that schools are being sensitive to the needs of their black and minority ethnic pupils.
- The Trust for Developing Communities works with Anchor groups from the city’s BME communities – including the Oromo refugees who came in 2006 – to empower them and improve the mental health and wellbeing of their members.
- Brighton Voices in Exile provides food parcels for those who are destitute, as well as immigration and casework support.
- The Refugee and Asylum Seeker Project brings young unaccompanied refugees and asylum seekers together in a youth centre to learn cooking skills from each other – they have recently produced a fantastic book!
- Our very own Refugee Radio project, creating podcasts of refugee’s voices telling their own stories and choosing the music they like best.
- Locally based but internationally known organisation Euro-Mernet are dedicated to raising awareness about human rights abuses in the countries of Europe and the Mediterranean regions. Their great website also includes information about local communities of sanctuary seekers from those countries.
- We are really lucky to have an internationally renowned Centre for Migration Studies at Sussex University. Our fantastic international City of Sanctuary volunteers have come from this pool of academic excellence and expertise which also has its own STAR group. A key pieces of research into refugee resettlement using refugee community researchers is taking place at the moment. The excellent ‘Hidden histories’ project was also co-ordinated by the University of Sussex, providing a record of the city’s migrant communities with a focus on recent asylum seekers.
- Furthermore, as you might have seen advertised on our Facebook and Twitter page, following the effective Equal Access Campaign of the local Student Action For Refugees (STAR) group, University of Sussex have implemented a Discretionary Leave to Remain (DLR) Scholarship. This scholarship provides people with DLR status, who do not have access to funding from Student Finance England, with the opportunity to study at Sussex.
- Meanwhile colleagues at Brighton University are working with a locally based Syrian refugee to bring a Syrian refugee artist, currently in exile in Turkey, to the city this autumn to exhibit his work and take part in an academic discussion about the nature of art and conflict.
- Local social enterprise Sussex Interpreting Services not only provide interpreting for the local NHS but also bilingual advocacy and health promotion work by way of volunteer linguists, some of whom have arrived in the UK as refugees. Arabic is by far the most commonly requested language, reflecting our large communities from North Africa and the Middle East, a particular feature of our city.
- We celebrate Refugee Week every year.
- We also have many small refugee and migrant community organisations and groups running social events, mother tongue classes and trips for their members.
There are also free yoga classes for refugees and migrants, numerous theatrical and other cultural events with themes around human rights and persecution, from the appointment of Aung Sang Su Kyi’s as guest director of the Brighton Festival in 2011 to the production of Elegy, a play based on the testimony of gay Iraqi refugees in March 2015.
And of course our film makers Cathy and Sylvie have produced ‘Tasting My Future’ for our launch!
Schools of Sanctuary
When we sat down with the Council’s Healthy Schools co-ordinator to see if we could develop a Schools of Sanctuary programme, it was clear that a great deal of work was already being done. The Ethnic Minority Achievement Service (also members of the Sanctuary on Sea group) have a wealth of knowledge and experience of placing bilingual staff in schools to support new arrivals as well as helping with home-school liaison. An audit is being carried out of the current equalities policies being used in schools to monitor practice – to see if there are areas that can be strengthened further to make sure that the particular needs of refugees and asylum seeker pupils are considered. Meanwhile schools are being encouraged to take part in Refugee Week 2015.
The Council and representatives from the community are also working together on a programme of work known as the ‘One Voice’ initiative. With senior level engagement (Chief Executive of the Council and the local Police commander) and involvement from many BME (including migrant and refugee) community representatives, ‘One Voice’ promotes the benefits of cultural diversity and dialogue between the community and public bodies. This initiative arose as a response to the deaths in Syria of three young men from Brighton & Hove so a key aim is also to reduce the vulnerability and protect those who may be drawn into extremism. A community event took place on 21st May 2015 at which the Sanctuary on Sea group had one of the 40 community stalls and was endorsed by the Leader of the Council. To get a flavour of the positive sentiments that are being expressed about Brighton & Hove by those involved in the ‘One Voice’ initiative, you can hear them here:
Add to this our worldwide reputation for being somewhere that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people tend to feel safe and accepted, with the most gay-friendly Council in the country, according to Stonewall, you can see why we like to think we live in a City of Sanctuary.
There is a lot we still need to do. It is still really difficult for sanctuary seekers to find jobs that use their qualifications and skills, for example. And there are still not enough opportunities for residents of the city to find out about why people have to seek sanctuary in the city, to meet and socialise with refugees and asylum seekers. All of these steps would break down barriers that are still there. We also need to continue to work with the City Council on their plans to bring a small number of Syrian refugees to the city. We have started to think about our next steps and you can find out more about this at our launch.
Brighton & Hove Sanctuary on Sea group , June 2015