REFUGEES and asylum seekers are not a burden on Bristol – they are an asset which enhances the city, Lord Mayor Faruk Choudhury told the annual City of Sanctuary celebration.
The Lord Mayor was backed by other officials and dignitaries including the city’s political master, mayor George Ferguson, in emphasising the pride that Bristolians have in welcoming refugees.
The third annual gathering of City of Sanctuary, the organisation set up to encourage a celebratory approach to people forced to flee their homelands, was backed by Bristol NUJ and scores of other city organisations from schools and colleges to churches and companies.
The event also saw the release of the third edition of Bristol Globe magazine, which celebrates the city’s diversity and is produced in large part by NUJ members.
As well as the celebration, the gathering at the Lord Mayor’s official residence, the grandiose Mansion House in Clifton, heard harrowing truths about seeking asylum.
Iranian asylum seeker Mahsa told how she had experience years with no home and no income after her family’s application for asylum was turned down.
This is the harsh reality for thousands of people who have fled their homelands, the gathering heard.
Even when people are applying for asylum they are only given £5 a day, said Mike Kaye, campaigner against destitution in the Still Human, Still Here campaign. If a claim is refused, all benefits and housing support are cut off. The Red Cross is helping 8,000 destitute people a year, he said.
The political mood is changing for the better, he said – a point backed by George Ferguson, who spoke of his pride that the city council has passed a motion inspired by City of Sanctuary condemning the government policy which condemns failed asylum applicants to destitution.
“The Government needs to have a more human stance,” Mr Ferguson said in an interview with Bristol Globe. “No civilised city should be prepared to leave anybody in a state of total destitution.”
The event, hosted by broadcaster Sherrie-Eugene Hart, heard a moving, unaccompanied and self penned song about destitution from John Pat, a sanctuary seeker and member of Bristol Refugee Rights. Students from St Brendan’s sixth form college also entertained the appreciative guests.