Today’s blog post comes from Cllr Asher Craig Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Communities, Equalities and Public Health.
This Sunday is Holocaust Memorial Day and as part of the commemorations I spoke at an event at City Hall. Holocaust Memorial Day is a national day dedicated to the remembrance of those who suffered under Nazi persecution and subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.
Today was an emotional day that brought together young people and members of religious communities to hear inspiring speakers such as Iby Knill, a 95 year old Holocaust survivor. During the Second World War Iby was part of the Resistance Movement but was arrested by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau and a slave labour camp at Lippstadt. She spoke movingly of her experiences.
Later, sixth formers from colleges across the city spent time exploring what could be learnt from terrible events like Auschwitz. We cannot stop persecution, but ensuring that young people appreciate and learn about these experiences and how the human spirit can prevail and overcome is unbelievably important.
I spoke about how the city council has worked with partners to provide a home and safe haven for refugees, including from the ongoing conflict in Syria. Bristol is a city of freedom, equality and solidarity and became a City of Sanctuary in 2011. Long before that, it has a strong record of welcoming refugees, such as Jewish refugees during the war, refugees from the Spanish Civil war in the 1930s, Somali refugees in 2000s and Syrian refugees since 2016.
Bristol has gained national recognition for its work in welcoming migrants and refugees as part of the Inclusive Cities Programme. Bristol City Council has supported 80 families who have no recourse to public funds which includes vulnerable people who have been trafficked. The council also supports over 70 unaccompanied asylum seeking children and young people who are looked after children. We have resettled 268 people from 50 families since April 2016 and are aiming to resettle a total of 100 families by March 2020.
Our health partners run a special clinic, the Haven, which offers a full service adjusted to better meet the needs of asylum seekers and refugees and we work closely with voluntary sector organisations who work tirelessly to meet the needs of refugees and asylum seekers in Bristol.
Highlights from our communities’ contributions include:
- Around 800 asylum seekers live in Bristol, supported by four welcome centres, one of which is run by and for refugee women.
- The Government grants about 250 Bristol asylum seekers leave to stay each year and they are each offered one-to-one case work support by the Red Cross.
- Refugee Week has now become Refugee month with a wide range of activities promoting the contribution of refugees to the city.
- In Bristol there are about 150 destitute asylum seekers. We have families in Bristol who offer a room in their home for a destitute asylum seeker and welcome centres focus much energy on supporting this very vulnerable group. 40% of people using the welcome centres are destitute.
- A local Housing Association works with a community organisation to organise neighbourhood conversations, pop-up interactive events, active citizen’s training and are making a film on Bristol Values.
- Community activists organise Peace Feasts, befriending schemes, street parties, Inclusion days and a Community Iftar where over 800 people from different backgrounds shared food in 2018.
- We have a strong mentoring programme giving asylum seekers and refugees emotional support when going to court and attending other difficult meetings.
- A network of activists who support asylum seekers to sign on in police stations and raise money for transport. I should also mention that First bus double the money raised by this enterprising group.
- A local citizens group is promoting community sponsorship of refugees based on the Canadian model, and the first community sponsorship family was welcomed to Bristol in 2018.
- Ashley Community Housing, set up by refugees, has over 100 housing units for new refugees. It will also be running a positive action jobs fair this March to help 100 refugees to find work
I am really proud of all of this work. But it would not be possible without the people of Bristol and the work they do too in welcoming people as part of their everyday routines. Across Bristol and in our many different neighbourhoods, residents are working to build communities and secure futures for all of us and our children. We celebrate that it is this hard work that makes us a caring and vibrant city which is greater than the sum of its parts.
We have always been an outward facing city. Our population and our economy are growing, making Bristol an exciting place to be. We have a lot to learn from and to teach one another.
We also recognise that sharing, taking care of each other, and giving people the support we all need and a home to go to will make a great city even better. We all have a part to play.