The war in Ukraine has once again shown the importance of safe spaces for people to escape to. It has shown the importance of welcome, the importance of the extension of friendship and solidarity to those fleeing unimaginable horrors.
We have been reminded once again of what makes us human: compassion and empathy.
Whenever crises like these hit the headlines, we are always heartened by the compassion and empathy shown by communities in Bristol. People contacting us to offer a spare room, or to offer us items such as pushchairs and furniture. Emails asking about volunteering opportunities, with people wanting to use their time and talents to support wherever possible.
This empathy stands in stark contrast to the Nationality and Borders Bill currently going through Parliament. This proposed legislation would make way for some of the most draconian asylum laws we have seen in this country. In its original format, it seeks to create a two-tier system where people arriving outside of limited resettlement routes could be afforded less entitlement to protection. Put into context, it would mean that many people fleeing the Taliban in Afghanistan could be considered inadmissible to our asylum system. This, despite fleeing the same violence as those who came through the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme.
The Bill introduces the possibility of offshore processing, where people could be held in a third-country whilst their claim is considered; a system that, when implemented by Australia, received widespread condemnation and accusations of human rights abuses. Whilst amendments passed in the House of Lords remove these clauses, the Bill is now returning to the House of Commons for MPs to vote. We wait to see whether MPs will support these amendments or continue to support the building of higher walls instead of bridges, shutting people out instead of opening the door to the protection that all would seek in these situations.
This is not the society we want to live in. We want a country that recognises the sanctity of sanctuary regardless of which terror a person is fleeing; regardless of the colour of their skin, or which religion they follow.
It is in this context that we are sailing in solidarity and welcome through the heart of Bristol. A flotilla of boats will set off on the morning of the 21st of March, moving through the heart of Bristol to show our heart.
We invite the people of Bristol to join us on the harbourside to cheer the flotilla as it passes by, before heading up to our Tree of Sanctuary on College Green to hear from speakers about the importance of welcome. If you would like to join us, please register here so we can send out details of where to stand.
Our message is loud and clear: our city is one of welcome. We recognise and celebrate the immense contribution that people seeking sanctuary make to our city.