Thursday, 25 June 2009

CITIZENS call on Zimbabwe PM to endorse Strategic Internship Scheme

This week Morgan Tsvangirai, Prime Minister of Zimbabwe and President of the Movement for Democratic Change, visited London.

London CITIZENS and CITIZENS for Sanctuary helped arrange a meeting between Mr Tsvangirai and the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.

A delegation of London Citizens and Zimbabwean leaders turned out to welcome Mr Tsvangirai - and to ask for his support for the Zimbabwean Strategic Internship Scheme which aims to give skills and work experience to Zimbabweans in the UK so that when it is safe to return they are able to help rebuild their country.

A letter requesting the Prime Minister's support was handed over by the Project Lead, Mr Jeff Sango, as he arrived at City Hall.

Jeff and his fellow leaders of the CITIZENS for Sanctuary Zimbabwe Action Team then discussed the scheme with senior officials from the Prime Minister's office.

Later Mr Tsvangirai himself came out to greet the team.

Linda Robson, one of the leaders of the CITIZENS for Sanctuary Zimbabwe Action Team and an intern on the Strategic Internship Scheme said:

"The internship scheme has given me some real opportunities - but I never expected to be given the opportunity to meet the Prime Minister personally and shake his hand! I felt proud to be part of that action, outside City Hall, knowing that he was going to meet the Mayor of London - and that we had been a part of making that happen."

You can find out more about the internship scheme on the CITIZENS for Sanctuary website.

The pictures of Boris meeting Mr Tsvangirai made it into some of the newspapers, including the London Paper.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Action from 10 Ways - Minding our Language

On an individual level, supporters and regular Citizens alike are changing their language to better reflect the situation. Using ‘sanctuary’ instead of ‘asylum’ throws off the negative connotations that have all too long been attributed to refugees and those seeking sanctuary. By challenging the use of the word ‘asylum’ you also challenge the perceptions people hold. One person we spoke to has even put a ‘swear-box’ in the living room of their shared house, and challenged his housemates to mind their language, too!

Rory Thompson, a Management Consultant and English graduate from Surrey, said:
"It is a point of personal pride that the United Kingdom has a long and noble history of according sanctuary to persons at risk of persecution, and as citizens it is imperative that we command the government to continue to do so, and that we change our neighbour's attitudes towards sanctuary every day."

Fiona is a PR Executive for a high profile PR company in London, though she was brought up in Jersey.
“Sanctuary is an essential right of every human being, and it doesn't mean 'making an exception', 'going out of your way' or 'dealing with something unpleasant'. We all seek sanctuary every day - in a quiet moment away from work, in the daily yoga lesson, in the friendly one to one with your GP. Even having a cuppa with a friend.

To use 'asylum' implies being taken away and looked after because we can't look after ourselves. That we're being hidden, segregated and cut off from 'normal' activities because we are in some way a non member of society, but we take refuge from crime, injustice and illness, from persecution, unfair fines and citizens advice, we are seeking sanctuary from those elements of modern life that seek to harm us.”

Gabi Fattal, an aviation solicitor from London, said:
“I pledge my support for the campaign to replace use of the word "asylum" with the term, "sanctuary". I believe this is an important issue as the term "asylum" has come to have certain negative connotations in the media and in the public's view that may obstruct the real purpose of securing a better life for people fleeing persecution. Every human must have a right to justice and we are fortunate in Britain that we can use our democratic rights and duties to help improve the lives of others. I personally pledge to use the term "sanctuary" when discussing these important issues in the future.”

Jonathan, Financial Consultant from London:
"I believe there is a general misconception over the real reasons people seek sanctuary in the UK, which is compounded by negative associations in the media and certain political spheres. We appear to have lost sight of what is at the heart of this and that is people seeking a place of safety from the very real dangers of persecution in their home countries. The UK acts as a vital place of safety and sanctuary for people in unimaginable circumstances and I think that message is being lost, we should be proud of the real difference we can make to those in desperate need."

Laura Wathen, Investment Banker in London:
"I endorse attempts to clarify the English language and appreciate the problems, confusion and unfair assumptions that surround the term 'asylum seeker'. Britain has a proud history of granting sanctuary and I support efforts to safeguard it"

Steve Fleming, PhD Neuroscience student:
"Sometimes you don't appreciate the conations of commonly used phrases such as 'asylum seeker'. Unconsciously or otherwise though the term 'asylum' is associated with a stereotype of mental health problems given its historical usage. I will ensure that I use the term "person seeking sanctuary" and I will support a change in language by encouraging others to do so too."

Sophie Faber, Fast Stream Civil Servant:
“In a country where the BNP can win votes and seats by manipulating common misconceptions of the word 'asylum seeker' we have to do all we can to make sure these views aren't propagated. People who come to the UK to seek sanctuary must be fairly recognised and given the help they need to flee persecution. I am committed to never using the term 'asylum seeker', but instead 'person seeking sanctuary'"

Action from 10 Ways - Adopting a Civil Servant...

People are already getting in on the act and using '10 Ways for Citizens to Save Sanctuary'.

One of the 10 Ways is to show care and concern for the civil servants who make difficult decisions on who should be granted sanctuary and who should not.

In our churches for the two Sundays in Refugee Week we are using a prayer remembering those who seek sanctuary here, but also those working at the UK Border Agency.

Tim Clapton, Development Chaplain at Milton Keynes Mission Partnership, said:
"I am really happy the Churches of Milton Keynes are taking part in the collective prayer for people seeking sanctuary and for those making the life-and-death decisions at the UK Border Agency. It's more important now than ever for us to celebrate the diversity of our communities and our proud tradition of offering sanctuary for people fleeing persecution."

Rev Bruce Stokes from Wood Grange Baptist Church, London said:
“I can't think that anybody wants a naive, open border policy, but I do think that I am in the majority when I ask that British politicians should be world leaders when it comes to establishing a fair process, and that British immigration officers should be absolutely fair-minded in implementing that process. I would want nothing less if I were seeking sanctuary.”

Father John Clark will also be using the prayer at Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St Joseph Catholic Church, London. Father John said:
"We should not forget that Jesus Christ was a refugee. I wonder how Mary and Joseph would be treated if they were to seek sanctuary here today? We must remember in our prayers the refugees who need our protection, but also the civil servants who have to make life-or-death decisions on our behalf."

Sr Ruth O'Neill, DC, Cardiff said:
'I hope that Churches, in cities and towns throughout the UK, will pray this prayer in Refugee week. Working closely with people seeking safety, I have heard their sincere and desperate longing for peace. It is vital that we pray too, for those who have that difficult job of working at UKBA and for all of us, as we also share the responsibility to welcome the stranger; protect those in danger and enjoy the differences we discover.'

Here's the prayer:

Almighty God,
we give you thanks for every way
in which we experience Britain
as a place of diversity, safety and opportunity.

We pray for all who have come to this country
in search of a welcome, and for the persecuted
who have come in search of sanctuary.

We pray for those in the UK Border Agency
who have the responsibility, freely to admit
those who have a right to be admitted,
and resolutely to protect our borders
from those who wish us harm.

May they have wisdom, fair-mindedness
and pride, in the difficult and important work
they do on our behalf.

We pray that the tradition of providing sanctuary
to those forced to flee their homes through persecution,
may be preserved; and may each of us as citizens
show hospitality to refugees who are among us now,
and so safeguard the concept of sanctuary for the future.

May the communities we belong to
thrive in diversity and peace,
and may our citizenship in the UK,
reflect the open and inclusive citizenship of heaven.

Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord.


10 Ways for Citizens to Save Sanctuary

Finally! It is published! Went like hotcakes at the Celebrating Sanctuary festival on the South Bank last Sunday.

We shifted three boxloads, and we were only giving them out to people who promised to do one of the actions.

80 people signed up for voucher exchange alone!

Don't know what I am talking about? Check out our new publication here.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Highlights of a week flitting across the UK

CITIZENS for Sanctuary do not go where we are not invited. We do not have a territotial presence outside of London and so our Regional Campaign Action Teams are set up by local people with a keen desire for change.

So last week I travelled around the country to meet, train and be inspired by ordinary citizens who want to make the Independent Asylum Commission's recommendations happen in their community.

On Monday I went to Plymouth. About 15 people gave up half a day to talk about how they might campaign together for the common good in their local area. Isolated from much of the rest fo the country and with no history of migrant communities, there was no shortage of issues to address.

On Tuesday I was in Southampton and Portsmouth, meeting 1-2-1 with local leaders who had attended an introductory meeting in April. The story I heard there was the same story we encounter time and time again across the country - a small core of committed leaders working flat out to cope with the consequences of our asylum system, but fed up with just applying a sticking plaster. They want to organise together for change. The challenge as always is finding the time - so some training on 1-2-1s, the benefits of a relational culture and prioritising could be useful.

On Wednesday I headed up to the City of Sanctuary conference in Sheffield. Great to catch up with some old friends doing some inspiring work, including a university contemporary of mine who is running something similar to our 'Friends of Lunar House' project, except in his local Asylum and Immigration Tribunal in Bradford. I ran a couple of workshops on how citizens across the UK are using Obama tactics to make the Independent Asylum Commission's recommendations a reality. Really great bunch of people came to find out how community organising can make their work more effective. Inderjit Bhogal closed the conference with an anecdote about his taxi driver misunderstanding what asylum is, and then uttered words that were music to my ears: "Let us not use the outdated and misleading term 'asylum', but talk instead of sanctuary." Couldn't have said it better myself!

Then on to Durham, my alma mater. Had dinner with two students finishing their degrees, to talk about how we recruit the brightest and best to become community organisers, and challenged them to get students to support our voucher exchanges.

On Thursday I was in Durham and Newcastle for 1-2-1s with leaders who want to be part of the Regional Campaign Action Team. Again, there was real passion and commitment - mostly from British citizens who have recently encountered people seeking sanctuary who have been poorly treated here.

And Friday, early, I visited Milton Keynes for the first time in my life. Given that I only ever ventured about 500 metres of the train station I will refrain from making the usual snide remarks about the concrete jungle, but will instead say how full of hope the lovely people who attended our training event were. Many of them were refugees or people seeking sanctuary, and by the end of the day, as we taught about power and negotiation, you could almost sense their desire to put it into practice.

So a busy week - but the travelling was worth it. With committed citizens working together effectively and strategically, change will come...