Thursday, 15 October 2009

CITIZENS convince UK Border Agency to turn 'cattleshed' into an £800,000 Welcome Centre

In front of a packed Assembly of 300 people in Lambeth Town Hall yesterday, the UK Border Agency's Regional Director, Tony Smith, thanked South London CITIZENS for making possible an £800,000 redevelopment of the 'cattleshed' at the Agency's Croydon HQ, into a Welcome Centre.

Mr Smith made the decision to proceed with the plans following pressure applied by South London Citizens at their Assembly in 2008. Since that time Mr Smith and his team have worked with a team of leaders from South London Citizens as part of the CITIZENS for Sanctuary campaign. The new Welcome Centre will transform the experience of the thousands of people seeking sanctuary who use Lunar House every year. Instead of queueing outdoors the plans provide for a climate-controlled, fully-enclosed reception area, with seats for those unable to stand, and an 'customer experience' more akin to a government building than a cattleshed. Over 80 builders are working on the project to ensure that it is complete by Christmas, when South London Citizens will celebrate the opening by singing carols.

South London CITIZENS' enquiry into Lunar House had previously led to major changes at Lunar House - the main Border Agency building where people fleeing persecution can claim sanctuary. Over the years these changes have included access to fresh drinking water in the Asylum Screening Unit, the provision of baby-changing facilities, and the removal of the 'pig pen' queueing arrangements. Volunteers from South London Citizens have served over 900 cups of tea and coffee to often traumatised and vulnerable people in the Asylum Screening Unit in the past six months.

Barbara Nalumu, a leader from South London Citizens and a key figure in the CITIZENS for Sanctuary campaign, said:

"The cattleshed was where I had to wait, in the cold and the rain, when I came to the UK from Uganda 20 years ago. I remember thinking: “this is not much of a welcome to Britain.” When I visited it again earlier this year it hadn’t changed much. On Monday a delegation of South London Citizens visited Lunar House - and we were delighted to see that work on the new Welcome Centre was already under way."

Tony Smith, Regional Director of the UK Border Agency for London and the South East, said:

"I am really grateful to South London Citizens and the Friends of Lunar House for giving me the momentum to be able to proceed with the refurbishment. Without your support this would not have happened. I look forward to working with you in South London, and negotiating with you on the recommendations of the Independent Asylum Commission."

Cathy Giraud, a leader from South London Citizens and one of the Friends of Lunar House, said:

"The changes at Lunar House look amazing and are a testament to the importance of the relationship between the Border Agency and South London Citizens."

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