On 15th November three courageous people, including one of those we have helped here at the sanctuary were given the opportunity to address the “Refugees Welcome?” All Party Parliamentary Group inquiry at the Houses of Parliament. The personal testimonies followed the collection of written submissions to the inquiry. Emma Birks, our Regional Asylum Activist led the Birmingham agencies’ joint submission and arranged for the testimonies to be given through STAR, Student Action for Refugees.
As they told their stories, the reality of seeking asylum in the UK and problems in the support system were laid clearly before the politicians with heartfelt simplicity. In their evidence the refugees who spoke made clear that they wanted to contribute to making life that little bit easier for those who follow them through the asylum system in the UK and the difficult period that can follow the granting of refugee status.
At the end the chairperson, Thangam Debonnaire MP, thanked them for their words and their honesty and assured them that this was not just about writing a report, but the inquiry was borne of a desire to really make a difference to the system. It is very easy for asylum seekers, refugees and those who try to make them welcome to feel that they have been abandoned by the political system. They and we can be reassured that at least some of those in parliament genuinely want to understand the realities and make life better for those caught up in the asylum system. Those of us who have sought asylum, and those of us who have met with and worked alongside them, have very important stories to tell in order to project a different image, a more real image than those seen so often in the media.
What was also abundantly clear in their words was that, where the official systems had failed them or left them confused or feeling unwelcome, it was the voluntary agencies, places like St Chad’s Sanctuary, who had offered them signs of hope, friendship and welcome.
"The positive impact was from the hosting of volunteering agencies who want to show us the 'real UK'"
“When I was waiting for my papers, I meet wonderful people in St. Chad’s Sanctuary in Birmingham. Really wonderful, believe me. When these problems happened to me, these people are like my big family. I can pass this hard time with my big family supporting me."
“ ...What about people who have nobody to help them?”
We have an incredibly important role to play and each and every smile and word of welcome we offer has a value beyond measure. Not that it is all about self-sacrifice … it is also an amazing privilege to journey with so many wonderful people and be invited to be a part of their stories. We should never underestimate what simple gestures of humanity can mean to someone who just needs to know they are welcome here. We should never forget our first vocation is to speak that message to all who enter through our doors.