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13 June 2014

Cardiff aiming to be a recognised City of Sanctuary

Cardiff aiming to be a recognised City of Sanctuary

People in Cardiff are excited at the prospect of Cardiff being officially recognised as a City of Sanctuary, with a public announcement expected during Refugee Week (June 16-22).

City of Sanctuary is a movement birthed by Methodist Minister Inderjit Bhogal, who initiated the concept in Sheffield. The core aim of City of Sanctuary –in which there are 30 cities and towns involved throughout the UK –is to imbed a culture of welcome and hospitality for those fleeing war or persecution.

Of these 30 cities and towns, Cardiff would be the seventh such city, should it be awarded, to achieve recognition, following Sheffield (2007), Swansea (2010), Bradford (2010), Coventry (2011), Bristol (2011) and Newcastle (2014) –the second city in Wales and the first UK capitol.

A delegation from the UK City of Sanctuary team travelled to Cardiff on 4 June to visit drop-ins and projects and to chat with staff, volunteers, refugees and asylum seekers. A public announcement regarding their decision on Cardiff's recognition is expected soon.

Mahatma Ghandi once said that the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members and asylum seekers and refugees are more vulnerable today than what they were a year ago due to change in government policy.

In November last year it was announced that the organisation Migrant Help had won the contract to provide the new UK government's advice services for adult asylum seekers, with those services severely scaled back from what had previously been provided when the contract was held by the Refugee Councils.

There is much concern, for example, that the new model will result in a sharp increase in homelessness among asylum seekers. Organisations working in the Refugee Sector, including many churches, are currently scrambling to understand where the greatest gaps are and where they should position themselves in order to provide the most benefit to those most at risk and vulnerable.

City of Sanctuary as a movement is coming of age and is well-poised to help in these difficult times: with a focus on partnership-working in a sector where organisations often work in isolation. City of Sanctuary groups around the UK are making an impact and enabling groups to work together in an unprecedented way.

Cardiff's group has had over 50 organisations sign their pledge, including Oxfam Cymru, Welsh Refugee Council, Children in Wales and the Welsh Centre for International Affairs. A number of faith groups are involved, including Evangelical Alliance Wales, the Methodist Church, Cytun (Churches Together in Wales) and the Muslim Council of Wales, with the Alliance's Jim Stewart providing the secretariat for the group.

The movement is gaining in stature, and an event is being mooted for Westminster in the autumn in order to raise awareness to MPs of the vital work that City of Sanctuary is doing as a grassroots level.