2021 marks ten years since Bristol officially launched as a City of Sanctuary, where hundreds of people gathered under a sea of blue umbrellas on College Green to celebrate a movement of welcome for refugees and asylum seekers in our city. Tonight, City Hall will be lit up in blue to honour the anniversary and demonstrate Bristol’s continued commitment to building a city of welcome and safety for all.
City of Sanctuary in Bristol originated when a Bristol City Council official, the late Loraine Ayensu, heard about Sheffield becoming a City of Sanctuary and fed the idea back at a Refugee Week steering committee meeting. A group of people from Bristol’s diverse communities, including faith groups, community groups and, most importantly, those with lived experience of seeking sanctuary, came together. This culminated in a motion from the late Cllr Ron Stone at Full Council on 16th November 2010, winning the backing of councillors. Bristol was officially recognised as a City of Sanctuary in 2011.
The idea behind the movement is one of welcome and safety. It is a network of dedicated individuals and organisations who all recognise our shared humanity and the immense contribution that people seeking sanctuary make to our city. The movement for welcome is a powerful one in the city; from the incredible organisations that work with people seeking sanctuary to the local schools and colleges who strive to become Schools of Sanctuary, it really is something to be proud of. But there is still a lot of work to be done to make it a City of Sanctuary in nature, not just in name, especially against the backdrop of policies that make seeking asylum in this country so difficult.
People often have to wait years for a decision on their asylum claim, subjected to not only an intolerable wait but also a culture of disbelief from the Home Office. They are effectively banned from working whilst waiting for a decision. Hostile policies and visa conditions force some people seeking sanctuary into poverty and destitution. This hostile environment will only get worse if the Nationality and Borders Bill passes through parliament. It would create a two-tiered asylum system that focuses on punitive proposals rather than sanctuary and welcome.
However, over the years working with our supporters across the city we have achieved a great deal towards our vision of sanctuary. We have established our Schools of Sanctuary initiative, working with local schools and colleges to encourage and foster welcome within the community; set up a Sanctuary Transport Fund, which provides bus tickets to people seeking asylum; and run campaigns to influence local and national policy, including our current campaign against the Nationality and Borders Bill. None of this would have been possible without the coming together of so many individuals and organisations in the city, along with the support of the Mayor of Bristol, Councillors, Bristol City Council, and our local MPs.
The story of our journey would not be complete without a special mention of Forward Maisokwadzo, who was hired as Development Worker (thanks to a grant support from the Bristol Legacy Commission) to make the vision of City of Sanctuary a reality in Bristol. He has worked tirelessly for over a decade to embed this vision and continues to be a leading voice on what sanctuary means in Bristol, now working as Inclusion Advisor to the Mayor of Bristol.
Tonight, as City Hall is illuminated in blue, we say a huge thank you to all those in Bristol who support our vision and work. Working together we can build Bristol as a city of welcome, safety and hope for all.