Thursday, 29 July 2010

Transport for London on board for CITIZENS for Sanctuary campaign

Two years ago, the Independent Asylum Commission recommended that people seeking sanctuary who are required to report regularly to the UK Border Agency should be provided with cash or a travel card to pay for public transport. At present, there are 322 people in London whose claims have been refused but who are unable to return home, and who live on £35 a week on an ‘Azure’ card – a form of payment currently unrecognized by London’s transport providers. Some are forced to walk for miles across the capital to report.

Last week, a diverse delegation of CITIZENS for Sanctuary leaders - including faith leaders from the Jewish and Roman Catholic community, a trustee of CITIZENS UK, the director of the Migrant and Refugee Communities Forum and leaders from the refugee community who are issued the Azure card - met Mr Shashi Verma, representative of Transport for London. The negotiation brought the IAC’s recommendation a step closer to reality. Not only did Mr Verma agree to look at the possibilities of allowing those who currently live without cash to use London transport – either by signing TfL up to the Azure scheme, or by initiating a ‘Freedom Pass’-style system – he also agreed to accompany CITIZENS for Sanctuary to their next meeting with the UKBA.

One member of the negotiating team, Father Thomas O’Brien, remarked that ‘It was encouraging to come to a meeting in which the person with whom we sought to make a relationship... was both open and excellently prepared’, and that Mr Verma will be a ‘valuable ally’ in fighting this cause. Rabbi Jeremy Gordon, who chaired the meeting, explained, “he was willing to listen to us and share the benefits of his experience and insight – I look forward to being able to continue to work together”.

CITIZENS for Sanctuary are delighted to have begun building a relationship with TfL, and believe that together they can help ensure that London transport is for all Londoners – including those forced to live without cash.

UPDATE: four leaders from different refugee communities who use the Azure card ran a successful negotiation with Jenny Jones, London Assembly Member yesterday. The women shared powerful stories of how their experiences of persecution, sex trafficking and violence led them to the UK, before outlining the many difficulties of living without cash: such as being unable to buy phone cards to call family members in danger back home or to use the bus.

The testimony had a great affect on Jenny Jones, “We need to get your voice out there”, she said. “As a Green Party member I care about not just the environment but people and social justice. I’ve been in a position where I haven’t been able to afford the bus, so I understand a fraction of what you are going through – but I can’t imagine how you cope”.

Polly, who chaired the meeting, explained, “We had a very successful meeting – Jenny Jones needed to hear those issues and will be a powerful ally. She agreed to ask the Mayor, Boris Johnson, what he has done to fulfill his commitments to providing travel expenses for people seeking sanctuary in London and will put pressure on Transport for London. She invited us to City Hall to hear Boris Johnson’s reaction”.

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