May/June 2022 Newsletter
The last newsletter appeared towards the end of March. In 10 years of working with York City of Sanctuary I do not recall a more intense two months, with the Ukrainian crisis and Government announcements bringing new situations almost daily. I will attempt to offer a flavour of what has been happening, and the work which we have taken up as we respond to human need and new Government initiatives.
Paul Wordsworth – Co-ordinator
From Ukraine to the UK
The Government offered two routes into the UK for Ukrainian refugees. One is for Ukrainian families already settled in the UK to offer accommodation in their homes to relatives fleeing the war. A number of families have come to York by that route, including elderly grandparents. Since there are only 50 settled Ukrainians in the city that was never going to be a large number.
The more popular route has been the Homes for Ukraine (H4U) pathway. A large number of people have offered to host Ukrainians for a 6 month period. York is no exception in seeing a generous response to the need. A wide range of accommodation in homes across the city and the nearby townships and villages has been offered.
York – Ukraine Support Team (YUST)
In order to provide some kind of order to the situation, we set up the York-Ukraine Support Team, in co-partnership with the City of York Council. Local hosts, already registered with the Government Homes for Ukraine (H4U) website, also signed in with our YUST team, and matching with refugees began. The team is led by Rebecca Russell, who has stepped down from trusteeship in order to take on this very demanding full-time work. Svitlana Kucher, who has recently arrived from Ukraine, is also a member of staff. Peter Robinson, our administrative leader has been doing sterling work in keeping the data base up to date with offers from volunteers and fielding messages. More than 130 people have come to York via this route. Almost all are women and young children. More arrivals are expected soon.
The Council staff work really hard to visit and check that accommodation is suitable, DBS paperwork is complete, and children are found school places. A Ukraine Drop In has been set up courtesy of the York City Church, in Gillygate, and has proved very popular. Settled and newly arrived Ukrainians meet up, hosts come along to seek advice or discuss further help which is available, and a number of agencies, including the YUST team are present to offer advice and guidance.
This has been a real team effort from a wide range of people in York, to set up a service of support and welcome to those fleeing the war zone of Ukraine. Rebecca and the YUST team have played a crucial and leading part in ensuring that York does live up to its name as City of Sanctuary. Thanks for the many generous gifts and offers of help – which are too numerous to mention by name. You have been a great support and encouragement to all that we are doing.
April 14th; 9.30 am; A day in the Co-ordinator’s office
I was at my desk early that day, and my first voice call was from a Radio station, asking if I could be on air at 10 am to speak about Linton-on-Ouse and Rwanda. These were two subjects which I had never heard linked before, and they seemed to have no connection that I could imagine. I surprisingly don’t talk on matters about which I know absolutely nothing.
At 10.05 am came a call from Channel 4 TV news team. They were in Linton-on –Ouse, patrolling the village to find a single resident who could speak about the proposed redeployment of the former RAF base as a centre for 1500 asylum seekers. This had been announced by the Prime Minister at a Press conference that very morning. Clearly, the residents knew little about the story. Channel 4 got pictures of startled residents expressing complete surprise and bewilderment. The reporter wanted to come and film me expressing my complete surprise and bewilderment. I declined.
Calls came in during the day from numerous media reporters seeking some ‘inside information’ from York City of Sanctuary relating to the Rwanda story. Priti Patel was in that country at the very time of the PM’s Press conference, signing an agreement to donate £120m to a vague and nebulous ‘education programme’. Later, she toured a hostel that asylum seekers exported from the UK would stay in whilst waiting for their application to become a refugee in one of the poorest countries in Africa. The hostel was only empty at the time of filming because the orphaned residents had been taken out for the day in buses.
The Rwanda scheme is hailed by Priti Patel as world leading and ground breaking. It is no such thing. In 2017 Israel entered an agreement with Rwanda to ‘export’ asylum seekers’ from their country. Around 400 were flown there, to stay in camps whilst awaiting their applications to be granted leave to remain permanently in Rwanda. In 2019, an Israeli report on the scheme, following an official visit there, found that almost all of the 400 people had left Rwanda, and only a handful were found in the camps, in destitution. The conclusion was that the scheme was a complete waste of money, and the arrangement was terminated.
The process of deporting people to a country with which they have no association, in order that they may be considered for asylum in a country not of their choosing, is a contravention of the Geneva Convention on the Rights of Refugees. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees is the guardian of the Convention and has stated its dismay that the UK, one of the first signatories of the Convention, should break away from their international agreement.
Advisers to the Home Office and Senior Civil servants said that the scheme will be hugely expensive and there is no evidence that it will lessen the flow of asylum seekers coming to the UK. It was given the green light solely on the command of the Home Secretary.
Closer to home, if you want to antagonise a local community, then the Home Office handling of the Linton on Ouse development is your model to study. There was no consultation beforehand. Almost all refugee agencies in the UK have already expressed their opposition to the housing of asylum seekers in former prisons and military camps. The reasons for opposing the use of the ex-RAF base are many and varied. The most telling are humanitarian, health and well-being, environmental, and human rights issues. The needs and concerns of the local people have not been addressed at all. The needs and concerns of those placed there will not be addressed either. This is the pattern of the Home Office.
The report into the Windrush scandal, in which the Home Office deported people back to the West Indies who had arrived as children with their parents in the UK 40 or 50 years earlier, concluded that the Home Office gave no consideration whatsoever to the effect of their decisions on the lives and well-being of those who were so profoundly and negatively affected. Officials appeared unmoved by the despair which they brought to families. Home Secretaries say that they have learned lessons from Windrush and it will not happen again. I beg to differ. Rwandan ‘exports’ and the Linton-on-Ouse experience tell us that the Home Office culture has not changed.
At the end of this newsletter, there is an opportunity to sign a petition against the development of the ex-RAF base at Linton -on –Ouse. Consider whether you wish to sign the petition. This is now the 4th former military site to be earmarked for development, and the largest so far. Perhaps enough raised voices may ensure that it is the last.
We are so grateful for the many donations received in this year. If you wish to contribute to our work, you can do so by BACS online. Our details are as follows;
Our bank; The Co-operative Bank The sort code; 08-92-99
Account name; York City of Sanctuary Account Number; 65847664
If you send a message to [email protected] to let me know you have sent a donation, I will acknowledge it. If you’d like a Gift Aid form, to enable us to reclaim tax on your gift, contact me at the same email address.
If you want to send a cheque, made out to ‘York City of Sanctuary’ contact me by email and I will send you the address to which you can write.
Petition to stop the Linton-on-Ouse Asylum Centre
Such centres have been heavily criticised in the past, with court’s ruling the site at Napier Barracks and Pennaly Barracks not fit for purpose.