A key aspect to being part of the national City of Sanctuary network is campaigning for change to the asylum process so that it is more just and fair. We work at local, regional and national level engaging with key partners to help bring about positive changes for people seeking asylum. This work enables us to meet our charitable object ‘to advance the education of the public in general, especially in Swindon, about the issues relating to refugees and those seeking asylum.’ Campaigns which have been the focus of our attention to date are:
Legal Aid – in 2018-19, we continued our campaign to focus attention on the lack of a local BRP-card facility for people seeking asylum in Swindon. Now they receive their BRP cards by courier and do not need to travel to receive their cards.
ESOL – free qualifications of English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) for people seeking asylum in England. Recently arrived sanctuary seeking Swindon resident, Zinat, wanted to meet South Swindon MP Robert Buckland, to explain the difference that free English classes had made to her life. She explained how the classes had helped her integrate, and how she knew this would help her find work and gain financial independence. Currently free ESOL is offered to people seeking asylum when they first arrive in Scotland and Wales but not in England. In conjunction with Asylum Matters and Refugee Action, we are working to try to end this gap in asylum provision and campaigning on this important matter continues.
Families Together – we joined our national partners and others such as Amnesty International and The British Red Cross in their campaigns to the government asking them to change the current UK rules that deny child refugees the right to apply to bring their parents to the UK; and elderly parents are left behind in war torn countries to fend for themselves.
Sanctuary in Parliament – We have attended 3 Sanctuary in Parliaments, an annual event organised by the national City of Sanctuary movement in conjunction with Asylum Matters. This is a chance for us to invite sanctuary seekers from Swindon to meet their local MP’s and others in government to help create systemic change for those in the asylum system. Each year a different theme is the focus, past themes have been – the right to work for people who have asylum claims outstanding for more than six months, an extension of refugee family reunion and an end to indefinite immigration detention. We have attended every year since 2017 except in 2019 when the event was cancelled due to elections and the ongoing pressures with Brexit.
Sanctuary in Politics – In December 2018, three sanctuary seeking Swindon residents participated in the residential course Sanctuary in Politics, held in Bristol organised by the national City of Sanctuary This was a valuable opportunity for people seeking sanctuary to have their voices heard and to empower them to become actively involved in change.The Swindon group’s follow-up work continues.
Advocacy – We have advocated on behalf of individuals when this has not been possible through The Harbour Project or any other agency where the need was immediate and urgent. Through this work we have built good relations with different departments at the Home Office.