City of Sanctuary South West Newsletter

Newsletter – Sanctuary in the South West
March 2016

The people of the West Country unite to help refugees 

We welcome all news stories from around the network. This current issue of the newsletter has a special regional focus on both established and upcoming groups in the South West (Bristol, Bath, Bournemouth & Poole, Cheltenham, Devon & Cornwall, Dartmoor & Exmoor, Dorset, Gloucester, Plymouth, Somerset, Southampton, Stroud, Swindon, Weston- super-Mare, Wiltshire, Totnes). Our aim is to produce newsletters with a regional focus to get a flavour of activities and share good practice promoting welcome and hospitality to sanctuary seekers. 

 refugees_welcome
The regional context: Although the South West does not have large numbers of asylum seekers and refugees relative to other regions in England there are still notable numbers of people seeking asylum, who have been dispersed by the Home Office to the region.  Many of them have had to undergo hardship to reach the UK and often face major challenges and problems after arriving.  Both dispersal and non dispersal areas are coming forward to engage with the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme to help the UK meet its target of 20,000 over five years. 
The South West Regional Forum for Asylum Seekers and New Refugees is a group of regional stakeholders brought together by the South West Councils to provide a regional response to issues around asylum seekers and refugees.

First Bus match fund travel tickets for destitute sanctuary seekers in Bristol

 First Group, a bus company operator in Bristol, Bath and the west have offered match funding of £200 monthly for bus tickets, to be used by destitute asylum seekers in the city. Bristol City of Sanctuary have begun working closely with local businesses to provide the funding, and are very pleased to join forces with Abdul Malik, a local businessman and Chair of Easton’s Jamia Mosque. “Destitution is a real thing for many in our city; City of Sanctuary do a huge amount of work with many of our city’s most vulnerable and I feel the religious and business communities of Bristol should help too,” said Malik.

He says, “As a community we need to come together for the  cause of humanity and my humble donation is a  small  gesture towards inspiring people to help in every possible way.

“My donation will be match funded by First Bus for people to be able to travel to parts of the city where they would struggle to walk to and by doing so this will bring a positive change in their life in a small but significant way, we all need to do our bit, I try to lead by example!”  Individuals and organisations are encouraged to make contributions to the fund. Among the organisations that have match funded the First Bus offer are Business West, Borderlands Charity, Bristol Hospitality Network and Bristol Defend Asylum Campaign. If interested in supporting this fund, then please email bristol@cityofsanctuary.org

Bristol Bike Project provides free bikes to sanctuary seekers: Sanctuary seekers living in Bristol can access a free of charge bike every week, thanks to Bristol Bike Project’s Freedom of Movement Scheme. The scheme hopes to enable and encourage asylum seekers, homeless, and women from marginalised and underprivileged backgrounds to use a bike and maintain it.
Participants work in small groups with mechanics who guide them through some very basic bike maintenance skills. After the sessions participants leave knowing how to remove the wheels of a bike, fix punctures and service brakes. The bike they have been working on can be taken home at the end of the session; complete with a lock and set of lights. The scheme’s aim is that through fixing up a bike that then becomes theirs, participants will gain access to affordable and sustainable transport that will give them more independence and mobility across the city. Participants are encouraged and welcomed to come back to maintain their bike and continue to develop their skills.

Bournemouth City of Sanctuary group gears for public launch in June

About 20 people from different groups including representatives from British Red Cross came together at International Care Network (ICN) on March 7th to discuss initial plans and ideas on how Bournemouth can join the City of Sanctuary movement. Guest speaker at the meeting was Forward Maisokwadzo, City of Sanctuary National Communications Officer and South West Coordinator. He spoke about City of Sanctuary values, aspirations and different processes groups might take in their journey to become places of sanctuary. Mr Maisokwadzo emphasized the importance of partnership working and inclusivity in developing a City of Sanctuary group in an area. He said “In an area such as Bournemouth where there are asylum seekers and refugees living in the city, the group should ensure their voice is heard by involving refugees at the very initial stages where possible.” Mr Maisokwadzo acknowledged, “It is an exciting challenge, organisations are busy with their day to day delivery of services but the City of Sanctuary identity is something worth pursuing. Bournemouth has welcomed refugees, and it still continues to do so, why not start from that celebratory standpoint?”  Christine Murphy, Volunteer Coordinator, International Care Network who also helped to organise the meeting said, “We are excited about the readiness of all to participate in building a City of Sanctuary in this area.”

Making a difference for refugees in Bournemouth:  International Care Network (ICN) is one of the charities with a long history of supporting refugees in the Bournemouth area. The charity runs a free advice and support drop-in clinic twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It provides legal advice and represents clients in immigration applications to the Home Office.  The charity runs English classes for refugee mothers with pre-school children and homework clubs for their older children in three local community centres .  It employs 13 part-time paid staff and 17 volunteers.
Syrian refugees: Some are settling in the Bournemouth area and seek support from either ICN or British Red Cross. ICN reported a case where recently  a young Syrian man came asking for someone to help him with a small loan to buy air tickets for his wife and two small children, who had just been granted ‘family reunion’ visas to come to the UK. He had been granted asylum here a year earlier, is now working and was living in a bedsit.  This was obviously inadequate so one of ICN families welcomed them into their home for three weeks until he was able to find a suitable flat. The family later moved to a place of their own having benefited from a further loan to pay the deposit, donations of furniture and the support of ICN staff in orientation. His wife has now started to attend English classes at ICN with a crèche provided and is getting ongoing support from support workers.
Bristol primary school fundraise for refugees: On 15th March, Year 6 students at St. Barnabas Primary School in Bristol held a very successful Tea for Refugees fundraising event. It was the culmination or “landing” of several weeks of study on the subject of Migration, which had involved research, discussion and listening to first-hand experience from invited speakers. The knowledge and understanding the children had gained were evident in the words and illustrations of their presentations. The tea party was an absolutely delightful event. School staff, families, members of the community and refugee groups had all been invited into the school to enjoy the delicious cakes and biscuits the children had spent the day baking, (with the invaluable assistance of the Mobile Kitchen Project).

Jo Benefield, representative of Bristol City of Sanctuary who attended the event applauded the school, staff and students for organising the event.
“We, the guests were greeted, seated and then served afternoon tea in such a welcoming, attentive and enthusiastic way that it was a real pleasure to be there. What a success! The children are a credit to the school and the staff must be very proud of them,” said Mrs Benefield. She added, “The relationships that are being built in this way between communities are so vital to the City of Sanctuary movement and we must continue to celebrate and nourish and strengthen them.”
Alison Camp, a teacher at the school, who was instrumental in putting together the event and many activities about refugee issues at the school, said  “As a school we are committed to becoming a School of Sanctuary in Bristol.” St Barnabas is one of the two new schools earmarked to receive the Schools of Sanctuary award during Refugee Week in June. The other is St Mary Redcliffe Church of England Primary School.

New life for a young refugee

Patrick is a sixteen year old refugee from Eritrea, who travelled for nearly a year, finally made it all the way to Bournemouth. International Care Network is looking after him on behalf of North Dorset Council Children’s services as he gets over the trauma of the journey and begins a new life here.

Busy and useful: Asylum seeker finds volunteer role in charity shop

Ahmed (not his real name) from Syria is learning English in one of the ICN classes, but wanted more contact with English out in the community.  Asylum seekers cannot work legally, but they can volunteer.  Hearing his story, the manager of one Bournemouth charity shop said, ‘Send him to me.”   Ahmed is so pleased to be useful, connecting with people, extending his English, and giving back to the country that has taken him in.  In addition, he will be better positioned for employment when his refugee claim is approved.

Churches Together Meeting in Poole: Early this month, over 100 people attended the Churches Together in Poole public meeting to discuss how to respond to the refugee crisis.  This followed a few meetings of a small committee, in which representatives from both ICN and the British Red Cross also participated.   Irwin Buchanan from ICN presented his organisation’s work and interviewed two Syrians about their life experiences, which inspired the audience. A representative from Red Cross also explained about what they do, and mainly focused on destitution support. Stephen Kress from Southampton group talked about City of Sanctuary. Poole Council was represented by Sue Newell. There was a good level of interest and energy in the room and the organizers felt it more than fulfilled their expectations for this first step toward action.
Resettling Syrian Refugees: delivering a multi-agency resettlement programme in the South West

Syrian refugees: South West urged to do more

Baroness Jan Royall has urged South West councils to offer more places for refugees. Baroness Royall made the call at a conference for council officials and representatives of the voluntary on 22 February in Taunton. The regional conference which was jointly organised by South West Councils and Local Government Association on “Resettling Syrian Refugees: delivering a multi-agency resettlement programme in the South West”. It provided an opportunity for councils and partner agencies to speak directly with the joint Home Office, Department of Communities and Local Government and Department for International Development team as well as to discuss the regional coordination model. In her keynote address Baroness Royall indicated she was hoping the South West would take more people in order to maximise the value of the employment prospects in the strong South West economy. Baroness Royall said that although she welcomed government’s offer to take 20 000 Syrian refugees, she “feels more could be done as the plight of people in refugee camps is heart rending.”
“I have just come from visiting refugee camps, and saw for myself the appalling and dreadful situation. I hope the government would carefully consider our amendments in the Immigration Bill for the UK to take about 3,000 children who have moved to Europe,” said Baroness Royall.  The conference was attended by about 100 people including leaders of the South west Strategic Migration Partnership (SWSMP), local authority chief executives, officers and voluntary sector representatives. Delegates heard current experiences from Wiltshire Council, Gloucester, Plymouth, Bristol (a city that has not yet received families) and a Syrian Refugee Perspective from the representatives of the Syrian Community of the South West UK. The conference provided an opportunity to take soundings to inform the SWSMP proposal for delivering phase 2 of the programme as it moves into a more firmly local authority led model from April 2016.

Syrian Resettlement – Gloucestershire
The experience of Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers (GARAS) by Adele Owen, Director, GARASOn two successive days in December I went to Stansted Airport to collect families to bring to Gloucestershire on the Syrian Resettlement scheme. This was the culmination of a lot of work to make this possible. We had been working with Gloucester City Council for 6 months at that point and then with the various District Councils and the County Council to make this possible. In the end there was an enormous push by Government to achieve the “1000 people before Christmas” that had been promised.

In the weeks leading up to their arrival we had appointed staff to work directly with the families and to prepare the properties for their arrival.  It was a very tight schedule as one property was only handed over on the Monday before their arrival on the Wednesday.  This was also exacerbated by the shut down for Christmas.  However it was all worth it when I placed a small child on their new bed, in their new home, with a toy Woody which he immediately played with and I knew he was now safe! This toy was amongst the many donations that we have received and have been able to provide the families with to help them as they arrive in this new and confusing setting.

GARAS leads on supporting Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children:
GARAS has been working with Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) for most of its history.
The organisation currently has 21 living in Foster Care, placed here by a number of local authorities. We are also working with around 40 more who were “Leaving Care” or were previously in care. We historically attended initial age assessments as appropriate adults and are attempting to maintain that. We then work with the youngster from as early in their lives in Gloucestershire as we can. We like to get to know the carers and their social workers and to help find solicitors and when necessary attend appointments.We provide a “pre-school course” to help prepare them for education in the UK. We run a regular carers meeting to iron out common issues and concerns. Several times a year we hold a meeting amongst the lads where they can discuss acceptable behaviour, sex etc with someone they can trust. Over and above that our UASC Worker regularly attends court and helps the youngsters with a number of wide ranging issues and personal concerns. This is only a sample of what she achieves within this role.

Wiltshire host Syrian families

A group of refugees who came to Wiltshire in early December are settling into their new homes and building new lives for themselves in the county. The group of 27 refugees (eight families and individuals) arrived in Wiltshire on 2 December. In the following days as they adjusted to the British way of life, they were supported by an army of volunteers. The groups of families and individuals are based in groups around Wiltshire with each family or person having a volunteer on hand to support them. Wiltshire Council worked with key partners including Wiltshire Police, health colleagues and the Department for Work and Pensions as part of a strong multi-agency approach to ensure the refugees had all they needed to settle quickly into their new homes.​

Baroness Scott of Bybrook, OBE, Leader of Wiltshire Council said: “When I’ve spoken to the refugees they have mentioned the warm welcome they received and their desire to find jobs, become self-sufficient and make Wiltshire their home.  “I’m proud of the way Wiltshire people have supported our new residents and I also want to thank the many volunteers and communities who have played such a key role in helping them settle into our county.”
The children are now settling into schools while support continues for all the families as they look to build their future here. Their experiences will be invaluable to aid future refugee groups making Wiltshire their home. There is the possibility a similar number will be settling into Wiltshire in the early summer and then again in the autumn.
Although some already speak good English, volunteers who can translate have been a key part of the settling in process and the refugees have been attending classes to help learn the language.
Charities, faith groups, community groups and volunteers played a key part in the response providing general support to help the refugees adapt.
Cornwall Council offers to welcome Syrian refugees: Cornwall has now made a formal offer to the Home Office to resettle Syrian families travelling to the UK under the Government’s Syrian Vulnerable Person Scheme. The council has offered to provide resettlement as part of a five year programme commencing with an initial three families who could be resettled in Cornwall as early as Spring 2016.
The Local Authority says it will continue to work with the Home Office and the South West Migration Partnership to determine initial arrangements and what part Cornwall can play over the next five years.A multi-agency partnership, supported by the Home Office, has been working together to prepare for Syrian refugee families being resettled in Cornwall. The partnership consists of Cornwall Council – including housing, education, adults, children’s, and localism services, NHS Kernow, Job Centre Plus, Inclusion Cornwall, Devon and Cornwall Police, Careers South West and community and faith representatives.

The group has mapped availability of schools places, primary care services, access to language and religious support and availability of private sector rented accommodation. Work is also taking place with local community groups and individuals who have expressed a wish to provide help to the refugees.
John Pollard, Leader of Cornwall Council said: “Cornwall has a proud record of being open-hearted and inclusive and we are looking forward to being able to welcome our first Syrian families. It is hard for us to imagine what refugees have been through but we hope that they will be able to find a new start here in Cornwall where they will be able to feel safe and free from persecution.”

Refugees resettled in the UK through the Government scheme will be given a full medical check-up and security vetting before they arrive in the country. They will be flown directly from the countries bordering Syria to England and those families that come to Cornwall will be met by representatives of the Cornwall Refugee Partnership and taken to their new homes.
To protect their privacy, the partnership will not be in a position to provide any details about any Syrian families resettled in Cornwall, but they will not be housed within social housing stock.

Donation drop-off set up in Taunton to help Syrian refugees: A donation drop has been set up for people in Taunton Deane to donate items to refugees already over in Europe. Lib Dem Cllr Frederica Smith said she has been overwhelmed by the response from people donating items to the People to People Solidarity in the area. She added: “We set a group up on Facebook and we’ve already had such a great response, so much so that my garage is full of items. “A convoy is going out from Bridgwater with all the items from around the area which will then be sent to Calais to help the refugees that are over there.”
There is a full list of items needed on the People to People Solidarity – Taunton Deane, on Facebook which includes things such as clothes, tents, sleeping bags and tinned foods.Cllr Smith added: “We’re also looking for someone to help us with a bigger storage space for free, if you can help please get in touch.”

If you would like to donate, you can find out more by visiting the group or calling Cllr Smith on 07545 895768.

Somerset opens its arms to Syrian refugees: An initial six refugee families will be welcomed to Somerset this year as part of a national programme to support those fleeing war-torn Syria.

Community groups and people wanting to help have been rallying together to put pressure on the county taking action. Now Somerset’s five district councils, the County Council and the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) have confirmed the county will welcome six families in the spring.

The five district councils, the county council and the CCG have been considering how they can play their part through the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (SVPRS). Initial discussions have highlighted Mendip, Taunton Deane and South Somerset as the most likely host areas, but all districts are continuing to be actively involved in discussions and planning.

Although Somerset is not a current asylum dispersal area, there has been a great desire to help from the community, local authorities and health. Community groups have been included in discussions and this will continue, but initially it is the statutory authorities who need to arrange housing, health, education, benefit income, individual family support and interpreters.

The county’s support for the resettlement scheme was confirmed by Somerset County Cllrs Anna Groskop, cabinet member for HR, Health and Transformation; and Frances Nicholson, cabinet member for Children and Families.  On behalf of all the public sector organisations involved, they said: “We take pride in being a warm and welcoming county where people from all backgrounds have the opportunity to thrive. This has been a real cross-organisation, joint effort and I’m delighted we are doing our bit to help those in desperate need. We know the people of Somerset are keen to help and this is a measured approach to test our capabilities. We’re a rural county without existing support networks for refugees in place and it’s important that we get this right.”

Football v Homophobia in Exeter: Football v Homophobia in Exeter: Exeter City Football Club recently took a stand against homophobia at its home game with Newport County recently. The match was designated as the Club’s annual ‘Football v Homophobia’ fixture and a number of initiatives to mark the day were organised by the Exeter City Supporters’ Trust and its One Game One Community (OGOC) Group and the Club’s Football in the Community charity.
This is the seventh time that a Football v Homophobia match has been held by Exeter City and the initiative has been backed by first team player and OGOC Ambassador Ollie Watkins who said: “Homophobia like all discrimination has no place in football.”
Players from both teams warmed up in Football v Homophobia T-shirts which were thrown to the crowd before the start of the game. The players walked out out of the pre-match line-up behind a Football v Homophobia banner.Football v Homophobia leaflets and information about the Lions were distributed to the crowd and the articles about the campaign were featured in the match programme.

Wootton Bassett Refugee Action is a local group of mothers who have been moved by the refugee crisis, and are coming together to direct help to those who need it most in the world.
Swindon: The Harbour project
The Harbour Project is at the forefront of welcoming and supporting refugees and asylum seekers in Swindon.
To those who’ve risked their lives, families and homes fleeing war and persecution, we provide friendship and hope for a future. With this purpose, we’ve been working tirelessly since the Kosovo crisis in 2000. Today, we’re aiding people from across the world.
We became a registered charity in 2003 when a small team of staff committed resources to running daily drop-in services, Monday to Friday. Whether it’s recreational activities, assistance with legal processes or help with social welfare, we’re still giving all we can to new visitors.
For some, our services are their lifeline. Together with our local community partners, we act to save vulnerable people from destitution and build awareness of people on the complex road to becoming a refugee.

ARWG meeting Tuesday 8th March

Time: Tuesday 8th March at 19.30-20.30 (NOTE IT IS NOT ON A THURSDAY AS IS USUAL)

Place: Quakers Meeting House, Foales Court, Ashburton

Agenda:12265713_1896427080583084_6308263521035827569_o

1. Plan our forthcoming event for Saturday the 19th March, U.N. anti-racism day – a midday vigil in Ashburton town centre, to which all supporters will be welcome.

2. Share updates, news and developments.

If you would like to contribute an agenda items please let us know in advance.