Today (June 20th) is World Refugee Day – designated by the United Nations to commemorate the strength, courage, and perseverance of millions of refugees around the globe.
It has made me reflect on what I have been doing for the past seven or so days in my role as Mayor’s Inclusion Adviser. Checking my diary, I realised I had had the privilege of:
- Talking to a couple of Afghan families living in a hotel since the fall of Kabul
- Speaking with two asylum seekers living in Home Office arranged Initial hotel accommodation.
- Having a coffee with a destitute Eritrean asylum seeker housed by local charity Bristol Hospitality Network;
- Visiting two welcome drop-in centres run by Bristol Refugee Rights and the Borderlands charity;
- Receiving a message from a Sudanese female journalist who has just been offered a job through ACH;
- Visiting some of the Ukrainian Welcome Hubs initiated by some of our local faith groups across the city;
- Hearing stories of hope from our BCC Resettlement Team of how Syrian families are rebuilding their lives and careers in their adopted home of Bristol;
- Having a telephone conversation with a single mother with ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ about her daughter’s application for school meals;
- Exchanging texts with the former Mayor of Kandahar, who lived in Bristol before his family were moved to Central Bedfordshire. He told me: “Both my family and I miss Bristol a lot. It was a lovely and nice place.”
- Hearing progress of some 50 people from Hong Kong attending English as a Second Language classes run by the City of Bristol College;
- Planning for a Windrush Day flag raising.
All of these stories and experiences remind me of why Bristol is a City of Sanctuary, but they also remind me of just how much work there is to do to improve the experiences of refugees in this country.
Migration is a global challenge which requires a global solution, but all of us can play our part. We need human cooperation. Our cities can be a critical partner in the solution. The crises we face may seem increasingly complicated with the Covid-19 pandemic, global economic challenges, climate change and wars but the power of hope sustains the human heart. Random acts of kindness during the pandemic and responses to the war in Ukraine can inspire all of us to provide welcome and safety to those who need it most – people seeking sanctuary from war, violence, persecution, and environmental degradation.
The theme for Refugee Week nationally is Healing, and here Bristol Refugee Festival and partners are organising events across the city under the theme ‘healing through community’. Activities run until Sunday 26 June with sports, arts, talks and many other activities to explore ways to create strong, safe, welcoming, and inclusive communities.
We are also excited to be welcoming a visit of Little Amal – The Walk (see www.walkwithamal.org) to Bristol on 24 June, hosted by the Bristol Old Vic. Little Amal (her name means ‘hope’ in Arabic) is a 3.5m sized puppet of a young refugee girl representing all displaced children. Her visit to the city’s support for refugees, cultural communities and organisations. The event will start with bird puppet making at the Old Vic at 3pm. Little Amal will appear from the Old Vic at 4pm, then move to the Old City via Welshback and then across the Centre Promenade to Cascade Steps for departure by ferry boat (at around 6pm). She will cross Clifton Suspension Bridge at 5am.
This World Refugee Day is an ideal reminder to all communities, new and established, that migration can work for all. With the right policies and structures migrants and refugees bring fresh ideas, talents, resources, and perspectives that contribute economically, socially, and culturally to local communities. The local authority on its own cannot guarantee that someone seeking sanctuary will be able to thrive in their new community, but we can do our bit and pursue our vision to “play a leading role in driving a city of hope and aspiration where everyone can share in its success.”
Enjoy World Refugee Day 2022! And help to spread hope not hate!