Monday, 17 January 2011

Glasgow CITIZENS for Sanctuary celebrate a positive first meeting with UKBA Regional Director for Scotland

An alliance of faith, community, trade union and refugee groups in Glasgow celebrated a milestone on Monday in their campaign to make the UK Border Agency in Scotland more accountable.

Glasgow Citizens for Sanctuary, which includes members from Church of Scotland, Justice and Peace Scotland, Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, Action of Churches Together in Scotland and Quaker Meeting House Glasgow, met for the first time with the Regional Director of the UK Border Agency in Scotland and Northern Ireland, Phil Taylor to set up a series of meetings to review their concerns with the asylum system.

Citizens for Sanctuary aims to build a fair, effective, humane and transparent system for those who seek sanctuary in the UK, based on the recommendations of Independent Asylum Commission, a comprehensive review of the whole asylum system that concluded in summer 2008.

In their first meeting, delegates from Glasgow Citizens for Sanctuary won a commitment from Mr Taylor to attend a meeting to discuss their practical proposals for reform and heard his interest in finding constructive solutions to existing concerns. “I’m the man responsible if anything goes wrong in Scotland”, Mr Taylor explained. “If there’s something we can do, we’re very happy to do it”.

The next meeting will be held outside the UK Border Agency offices to ensure that those who are going through the asylum system can attend and share their stories.“This has been a sticking point,” explained Pol Yates, who has been coordinating the group. “We were originally meant to meet in March last year, but the meeting was cancelled. Since then we’ve been trying to get Phil Taylor to a meeting outside of Brand Street. We’re glad he’s now said he’s very happy to meet us outside”.

Glasgow Citizens for Sanctuary first wrote to Phil Taylor at the end of 2009, following their Which?-style monitoring of a new payment card (‘Azure’), which was introduced for those on Section 4 support. From their findings the team produced a report with several recommendations to improve the system. Monday’s meeting was set up in December 2010 after the intervention of high-profile supporters, including the Archbishop of Glasgow, Bishop-President of the Justice and Peace Commission, the Convenor of the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council, the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Refugees and MP Ian Murray.

Glasgow Citizens for Sanctuary will meet again with Mr Taylor in the next couple of weeks to discuss the group’s practical proposals for improving the Azure card. This includes broadening the card so it can be used in charity shops so that people can buy big items like winter coats on a budget of £5 a day.”That’s something I’d be very happy to work on”, said Mr Taylor, “and I know there are other issues you have raised.”

“I’m feeling positive”, Rev David McLachlan, Minster of Langside Church and member of Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council, who chaired the meeting said. “We made a good start.” A member of the group, who fled violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, agreed, “I’m happy after that meeting because I now believe Mr Taylor will give us what we want. I didn’t expect such a welcome or such a positive meeting.”

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