Bristol joins network of UK towns and cities showing a welcoming attitude to refugees
More than 700 people and 120 organisations pledged their support this summer for Bristol to become a City of Sanctuary. The area is the latest to have the status – which is designed to show a friendly attitude to asylum seekers.
On 22 June 2011, Bristol celebrated with singing, dancing and processions. Hundreds of people gathered as they watched the spectacle parade through the College Green, Bristol Cathedral and the Council House.
It was an extravagant and symbolic day with celebrations that included tea and cake in the Council House – offering a traditional English welcome. An umbrella dance and procession paraded through College Green to denote the concept of shelter.
The procession itself was created to artistically represent the journey refugees go through to find safety.
The City of Sanctuary concept was set up in October 2005 in Sheffield, which became the first area to achieve the status. The aim was to create a chain of towns and cities throughout the UK that offer safety.
The number of places with the status has grown steadily, and now includes: Bradford, Chester, Coventry, Glasgow, Hackney, Huddersfield, Hull, Ipswich, Leeds, Leicester, London, Manchester, Nottingham, Oxford, Sheffield, Swansea and Wakefield.
These towns and cities pledge to appreciate the diversity of cultures within them and to include refugees and asylum seekers in local activities. Many locals are interested in gaining an insight into the trauma that these people faced in their own countries and want to support them through difficult times.
One of the many people who were vital to Bristol achieving a City of Sanctuary status was June Burrough, the founding director of local conference venue, the Pierian Centre.
June said that local refugees had been warmed by the support. “There were about 100 refugees and asylum seekers at the launch, and they had a voice and felt heard and welcomed,” she said. “It mattered to them that the civic leaders and members of the general public all came together to make such a public statement.”
She continued: “There is widespread support for the concept of being a City of Sanctuary. Increased diversity and cultural richness are assets for Bristol. The better supported that newly arrived asylum seekers are, the quicker they can integrate, work and contribute to the local communities in which they live.”
Her colleague, Nick Thomas added: “There were about 300 or 400 people wreathed in smiles and triumphant laughter. There were flamboyant ethnic costumes alongside mayoral robes and ecclesiastical collars. It was a huge success.”
Now that Bristol has acquired the status, June said that Schools of Sanctuary is also on its way – a programme promoting positive attitudes in children, towards refugees. “We are following the Leeds programme for this, and will aim to have several Schools of Sanctuary by Refugee Week 2012.”