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This month sees the annual Refugee Week, 15th – 21st June, with the theme of ‘Imagine’. York has in recent years developed a very vibrant programme with events across the city on a daily basis. This year, as you would expect, the Covid-19 restrictions mean that things are going to be different and digital. Do please share and support these events. The programme is on our home page

Did you miss it?
‘Sitting in Limbo’ BBC 1 Monday 8th June; 8.30 pm

The drama tells the true story of Anthony Bryan, 62, who was classified by the Home Office as an illegal immigrant, and faced with deportation to Jamaica, a country he has not visited since coming legally to the UK in 1965 at the age of 8. He is one of the Windrush victims snared by the 2015 Immigration Act, which the Home Secretary (Theresa May) said would, ‘make it easier to get rid of people with no right to be here.’

To date, the Windrush Taskforce has issued documents to 12,000 people in the UK proving that they are not and never were illegal immigrants. The Government issued an apology to Anthony and others in 2018, and set aside £200m to deal with compensation claims. To date, it has made total settlements of £63,000 to only 36 people. An official report on the scandal was released in 2020, at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic was beginning to take all the headlines. This miscarriage of justice should not be forgotten. It is not something more to be brushed under the carpet as we move on. The policy which created it is still in force and about to get worse.

Urgent Action requested
It’s business as usual at Westminster. The 2020 Immigration Bill is passing through the House of Commons at the moment. It alters conditions of entry to those seeking to live and work in the UK. The Home Secretary describes it as a ‘points-based system’, which will be ‘fair and transparent’. In reality, the main test is that a person must have proof of an offer of work with a salary of not less than £26,500 per annum. Low wage earners such as care workers, hospital ancillary staff, agricultural workers, hotel and catering staff, and thousands of other posts which are regarded as low skilled and low paid will not be given entry. The message is certainly transparent. It could not be clearer.
However, in debating the Bill, there is opportunity to put amendments. City of Sanctuary is calling on all Sanctuary supporters to write to their local MP asking them to support David Davis (Con. MP for Haltemprice and Howden) in his tabled amendment, introducing a time limit for immigration detention.

  • The proposal would make sure that no-one is detained for longer than 28 days
  • It would place independent judges in charge of detention decisions, not Home Office staff.
  • It would protect vulnerable people who have been tortured or trafficked from prolonged detention.In the UK, Police must either charge or release a person within 28 days. The Home Office can detain a person on suspicion of immigration infringements for an indefinite period without charging or releasing them. Some have been held in detention centres for 2 years or more. No other country in Europe has such a draconian system, which directly conflicts with basic human rights law.

Please contact; [email protected] (MP for York Central)
Or [email protected] (MP for York Outer)
Ask them to support David Davis and his amendment which has cross-party support. Tell them that you support an end to indefinite immigration detention. This is urgent, so please don’t leave it on your back burner.
If you get a response from your MP, please share it with me and I will pass it on City of Sanctuary leadership. [email protected]

City of Sanctuary in York
We are now in the first phase of easing out of lockdown. The virus has certainly not ‘gone away’ and many are rightly very cautious about the opening out of public spaces and retail markets. What is emerging is that things will not be ‘the same as before’ for a considerable time. Currently, the museums and Minster, bars, restaurants, pubs, hotels and cafes are still closed. The features which sustain and attract people to the city are not available. How and when they will open again is still not clear. Our ‘Welcome to York’ programme is not going to be back and running for some months yet.

Compass, which collects clothes and household goods for refugee families in York, Wakefield, Bradford and Hull, is certainly going to be needed when it becomes possible to gather items once again and deliver to other cities. Do please hold on to any items which you think may be useful to us. Check our website for a list of items which we shall need. When the time comes, we shall need volunteer drivers to assist us. Expenses for travel are paid.

Our development of Schools of Sanctuary and Shops of Sanctuary has also been stopped in its tracks. We will begin to explore with our partners how that may go forward as education and retail begin to step back into action.

ESOL -Teaching English has been available online through the work of York St. John and Refugee Action York. Nothing beats face to face conversation, but online courses are a good development which will continue to have their uses in days to come. However, home visits have not been possible and we look forward to renewing contacts with a number of families when it is safe to do so.

Advocacy and advisory services have continued by means of telephone, texts, and emails. Some refugees have found themselves made redundant, and required to register themselves as unemployed. For some, this is their first encounter with Universal Credit, and we have been able to assist them with online form filling. The Welfare Benefits Unit based in York has been a helpful advisory service, and the CYC benefits team have also been helpful and courteous. RAY and Citizens Advice have also continued to run advice services.

We have concerns about a small number of people in York who are currently asylum seekers. Their cases have been postponed since March. This is heart breaking, since they have been waiting for months and in some cases more than a year for appointments to put their case to the Home Office. Now, there will be a huge backlog and they will wait for many more months. In the meantime, they have no recourse to public funds. That is to say, they are not allowed to work, cannot apply for an NI number to allow them to do so, cannot seek housing benefits, child allowances, free school meals, jobseekers allowances, or access to NHS or dentists except for emergencies. If they arrived in the UK after 2017, they should not be renting housing. They define the word ‘destitute’.

The Home Office provides housing through Asylum Support, though currently none in York. That is now overflowing with people and leading to overcrowding. People who should have moved through the system are still in housing support, and there is no space for newcomers. Judges have now refused to send people to detention centres because they have become dangerously overcrowded. People are not being ‘repatriated’ to countries of origin because of restrictions on flying. The Home Office system for dealing with refugee applications has been inadequate and inefficient for some years. The Covid-19 virus has exposed it as now ‘not fit for purpose’.

Refugee Action York and York City of Sanctuary have hardship funds through which we seek to support those who are in desperate need. Donations to our work are always appreciated and put to good use. Go to our website to see how to make a donation.

Paul Wordsworth
Co-ordinator – York City of Sanctuary

This newsletter is for all our supporters. We hope that it will inform you about events locally and nationally. If you know any friends who you feel would value knowing more about our work and what is happening in York, City of Sanctuary, then do pass on this newsletter and ask them to contact us so that they too can receive our updates and news on a regular basis.