Providing a warm welcome

On 5 October 2016, Women for Change held a breakfast event on migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Jonathan Ellis, head of policy, research and advocacy at the British Red Cross who chaired the event, offers his reflections.

19 October 2016

As I left the Women for Change breakfast seminar last week, my head was full of thoughts. Initially I reflected on the power of the interventions my fellow panellists were directly involved with; all three of them are closely working with real people seeking safety and protection. Their passion and conviction of the need for change came across so strongly throughout the breakfast discussion.

But I was also so taken by the response from the women at the breakfast, the Women for Change members – the key question was: this is all compelling, but what can I do to make a difference? It was just so heartening to hear these responses as they grappled with what actions that they could undertake in their own context to make a difference.

And in the context of the current discussions in our country at the moment, this reaction was indeed so encouraging. While we may be reading about the calls for tighter immigration and the rise in race hate crimes in the wake of the Brexit referendum, I am struck by people at this breakfast, and indeed across the country, who respond to refugees coming to the UK for protection at an individual human level and seek to welcome them.

I am proud to be National Vice Chair of City of Sanctuary – the growing movement in towns and cities (and schools, universities, theatres, etc.) across the country providing sanctuary – which is all about local people coming together to offer a practical welcome to asylum seekers and refugees. In the midst of the current political debates on immigration, at City of Sanctuary we have been overwhelmed by the growing number of people expressing their desire to take action and offer a welcome. This is the unreported story of people stepping up to offer welcome.

At the breakfast I said that I felt it was beholden on us who are free and are protected from tyranny and persecution to speak up and act for those who are fleeing tyranny and persecution in their own country. The test of a civilised country is surely how it responds to the stranger coming in to seek safety. Whilst the media may give the impression that all people in the UK want to pull up the drawbridge, the truth is radically different with people stepping up in their own ways to offer a warm welcome. The response at the breakfast energised me; but it is a response that I see happening across the country – refugees are welcome here!

Jonathan Ellis, British Red Cross



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