Asylum seekers and refugees from each part of the country go to meet their respective MPs in parliament to express their struggle of being destitute, living in poverty, not being allowed to work, and not being able to come to the terms of living a life of charitable support and donations.
City of Sanctuary and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees have organised ‘Sanctuary in Parliament’ since 2014. Every year, asylum seekers from Bristol have had this unique opportunity to visit the Houses of Parliament. Bristol is blessed with four very enthusiastic MPs, who are very much concerned about the position of asylum seekers and refugees.
To attend the event, you must join the local Bristol City of Sanctuary group, based in the Assisi Centre, on Stapleton Road. You could also reach out to the other refugee agencies like Bristol Refugee Rights, Borderlands, and Refugee Women of Bristol to express your interest to be part of the day. If you are courageous enough to tell your story to the world, you can do so in front of the MPs, some Peers, and a room full of other asylum seekers and refugees.
This year we had great speakers at the event who focused on: the right to work for asylum seekers who have outstanding claims for more than six months, the extension of refugee family reunion, and an end to indefinite detention.
Those speaking had been first-hand affected by the government’s policies, and had the chance to engage in discussions about these topics with Kate Green MP (Labour), Tim Farron MP (Liberal Democrat) and Stuart McDonald MP (SNP). They answered a range of questions ranging from mental health problems stemming from the inability to work, to not being allowed to reunite with their families, to getting paid £1 an hour to work inside immigration removal centres.
It is an amazing feeling to be in the room full of dignitaries. This is my second time at the event and I felt so overwhelmed. This year, I acted as an ambassador for the City of Sanctuary, because of my commitments and work for the Bristol group to promote cohesion and inclusivity.
During the event, I met people from different cities and we shared alternative techniques to reaching our goals. It felt amazing that others were listening to my ideas and thought that some of those ideas could work in their respective cities. This feeling is very difficult to express in words, given a few years ago I was destitute.
Sanctuary in Parliament gave me the chance to meet, greet and discuss different issues with the government, and to ask for their assistance in creating change in the country. It was a great day, for those who usually have no voice, and nobody with any influence to listen to them. I especially admired the courage a speaker had in talking about problems of period poverty, something so many women have difficulty with – but a greater impact on those with such little income.
We must not underestimate how hard it can be for those asylum seekers and refugees to relive their awful experiences, both in the country they fled from, and here in the UK, when telling their stories. It can be humiliating to say out loud the impact of poverty on your life, or worse, to tell your story of destitution – where the only reason you survive is because of the kindness of others. It is frustrating to express what it is like not to be able to work. But it is the only chance you have, to meet the Parliament and share your side of the story.
This event does not only allow refugees and asylum seekers to engage with MPs, to share their stories, and visit the historic Houses of Parliament, but also, it provides us with a refreshing change. For one day a year, asylum seekers can feel proud in meeting some of the most important people in Britain, with the ability to create change.
I would like to emphasise the phrase: ‘it could be you next year’. We, Bristol City of Sanctuary, would like more asylum seekers and refugees to join our group so that we can make a change for the lives of the most vulnerable together.
Bristol City of Sanctuary
Souvik Saha is an asylum seeker living in Bristol, and a City of Sanctuary ambassador. He wrote an article for Bristol Free Voice on ‘Sanctuary in Parliament’, an event that happens every year which brings local City of Sanctuary groups from around the country to parliament to meet MPs to speak about issues relating to the asylum system. This year it took place on 12th November 2018.