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York City Council votes to become first Northern anti- racist city

Paul Wordsworth writes; ‘I was present at the Full meeting of the City of York Council on Thursday 21st October when the motion was put to the members, that York should declare its ambition to become an anti-racist and inclusive city. York City of Sanctuary was one of the organisations which pledged its support to the ‘Speak Up Diversity’ group who worked so hard to bring the motion to the point of decision.

This is not intended to be a tick box exercise, and an independent group will work with the City Council to develop and implement long term strategies aimed at tackling racism, improving inclusion, and removing barriers which marginalise minority ethnic groups.

Some people to whom I have spoken, were surprised that no strategies were in place already in the city on the issue of racism. Others were sad that it is necessary to pass such a motion in York. A few questioned whether racism was such an issue in the city that it needed to be brought to a full Council meeting for discussion and debate.

Records released by the North Yorkshire Police, show race related crimes in the city and across the County have risen over the past 10 years by 239%. The figures reveal a pattern of acceleration from 2016, as elsewhere in the UK. These statistics are ‘reported hate and race crimes’, and the number of unreported incidents will also have risen. The time has come for change to arrive in York. The motion passed by the Council is intended to signal measures to vigorously oppose the toxic presence of racism in our own city.

Every supporter of York City of Sanctuary can assist this historic moment by calling out those words and actions which are racist when heard or seen. For too long in this country, ears have turned deaf and eyes have been averted in the face of hateful and unacceptable racist language and behaviour. The time for change is long overdue.

I also spoke at the Council meeting, inviting members to sign up to the Local Authorities Sanctuary Network. This is a new development, widening the interchange of shared good practise and resources, information and support, to include, not only cities, but more rural authorities, who also work with refugees and asylum seekers. I was pleased that the Councillors were ready to give their assent to the move. This growing network enables the culture of welcome and hospitality to flourish and grow.’

Remember, remember the 4th of November

We hold our Annual General Meeting on Thursday 4th November, starting at 7 pm. The venue is the Quaker Meeting House, Friargate, York YO1 9RL. All supporters of York City of sanctuary are invited to attend.
The meeting will be held with the following safeguards in place. Sanitation of hands will be available at the entrance. Social distancing will be arranged in the seating area. The wearing of masks is no longer an obligation but we invite you to do so if you are not exempt.

With our newsletter you will find the following attachments;

  1. Agenda for the AGM
  2. Our accounts for the year to March 2021

If you have not yet replied to our invitation to attend, or have not yet sent apologies, then we look forward to hearing from you. It is helpful for us to know how many people to be expecting on the night.

Afghan arrivals in the UK not far from York

In the last 2 weeks of August, the UK arranged to airlift thousands of Afghans out of Kabul Airport and bring them to our country. At that point, the city of Kabul was already in the hands of the Taliban, and fear, panic, and chaos was everywhere. Estimates of how many people qualified to come to the UK, and were left behind vary wildly. Government sources say ‘a few hundred’. Western aid agencies still on the ground in Afghanistan suggest that it is several thousand.

Those who are here have been accommodated in hotels across the country, with a large majority in the North and Scotland. The Home Office is unwilling at the moment to disclose how many Afghan families have been moved to accommodation in residential areas, to begin the process of resettlement, and to enjoy the privacy and benefits of cooking, washing and sharing family life. So far, from the evidence of those working at the hotels, it is very small numbers. For the most part, though people are safe and secure, families have been living in one room with limited amenities, for 2 months.

In February 2021, the Home Office, in agreeing that hotels were not suitable accommodation for asylum seekers and refugees, said that alternative places would be found by the end of April 2021. Those staying at the York hotel were all moved out by June 30th, (better late than never). A number of those who left our city, found themselves in another hotel in another city.

There are concerns about the living conditions found in some hotels. Some refugees are reporting growing mental health issues. Contracts for the hotel usage have been extended to January 2022. A number of hotels have faced attacks and unlawful entry by right wing groups. The recent incident at the Grand Hotel, Scarborough in which a bomb threat resulted in the emergency evacuation of the building is one example of the harassment faced by those who came from their own country to escape the threat of violent deaths for them and their families.

The Home Office has called this accommodation, ‘Operation Welcome’. If, as being forecast, some families may still be in hotels in a year’s time, the welcome will be wearing very thin.

Meanwhile, the City of York stands ready to welcome a number of families. As yet, none have come. They are not far away, in Selby and Scarborough. The slow moving bureaucracy of Government departments does not enable speedy decisions to be made. That is ‘business as usual’ on the part of the Home Office.

Meanwhile, back at Westminster…..

The new Immigration Bill looks likely to be passed into law within the next couple of months. It makes it a criminal offence to enter the country by any other way than officially approved Government pathways. That directly contradicts the Geneva Convention and protocol regarding the rights of refugees, which states that the act of seeking asylum must not be deemed a criminal act.

One example will be sufficient. The Government states that it will receive 20,000 Afghans over the next 5 years, principally those who have worked for UK and western military forces and agencies. Will the Taliban allow people 5 years grace before they begin arresting and detaining such people? No, they have already begun to do so. What should Afghans do? They can only claim asylum in the UK by being physically here, so they must pay those who promise to deliver them here.

When they arrive on our shores after the new Bill comes into force, they will be arrested, and sentenced for up to 4 years in prison. Their claim for asylum will be ‘inadmissible’. They will be returned to ‘a safe country’ (as yet unspecified).

The Bill does not address the current failings of the UK Asylum system. It contravenes the Geneva Convention, which this country helped to draft. It will place us outside that Convention, and we may have to sign a memorandum to declare that we are no longer signatories. It is a shameful Bill and not worthy of the people of this country.

There is still time to stand with refugees.

Go to www.freedomfromtorture.org/officialsupport to find how to register your opposition to the Bill.

York City of Sanctuary wishes to acknowledge the donations, offers of clothing, and upsurge of volunteer applications over recent months. We are grateful for the support, which builds the platform for our work now and in future days. Thank you.

Monetary donation and Gift Aid form https://york.cityofsanctuary.org/forms-gift-aid

Paul Wordsworth [email protected]
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