The ‘City/Borough of Sanctuary’ Movement coming to Lambeth

In June 2022 Lambeth Council announced their ambition to apply to become a ‘Borough of Sanctuary’ – a welcoming and inclusive borough for asylum seekers, refugees and migrants. As the biggest provider of  advice and support for asylum seekers, refugees and other migrants at risk in the borough, we at SLRA are excited about the Council’s commitment and keen to work in partnership. This post gives you some background information about the ‘City / Borough of Sanctuary’ movement and our involvement in the Lambeth context so far.

The ‘City of Sanctuary’ movement

The ‘City of Sanctuary’ movement is all about local responses to the increasingly hostile and inhumane immigration policies in the UK. Similar local solidarity movements exist across Europe. The idea is to involve local authorities, the third sector and local communities to create welcoming, inclusive and safe cities for all those targeted by hostile immigration policies. The UK’s first City of Sanctuary was Sheffield, where there had been an increase in the population of asylum seekers due to national dispersal policies. Since then the movement has grown and more and more cities have joined. You can read more about the movement on the City of Sanctuary Network’s website. The City of Sanctuary network awards local authorities the sanctuary award after these have developed and submitted a strategy and action plan responding to the specific needs of their local refugee and migrant communities.

Learning from Lewisham, London’s first ‘Borough of Sanctuary’:

In London, Lewisham was the first borough to become a ‘Borough of Sanctuary’ and we can therefore learn from Lewisham for our Borough of Sanctuary journey in Lambeth. Key successes in Lewisham were a campaign against gatekeeping of social service support for migrant families with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) to remove the embedded Home Office worker in their NRPF team, campaigning for free school meals for all children, as well as tackling NHS charging for migrants with NRPF, including those who are undocumented.

The Lewisham Borough of Sanctuary has been featured in ‘Moving Cities’, a research project about different solidarity cities across Europe. According to this research, one of the main take-away lessons from Lewisham is that “the Council have expanded the meaning of sanctuary in the UK to address issues affecting migrants of all kinds, not only asylum seekers and refugees.” (Source: Paul & Squire, 2019. Lewisham (London) – How to challenge discriminatory authorities. Full report available on the Moving Cities Website)

This reflects well our SLRA vision of sanctuary for Lambeth: an understanding of sanctuary that does not discriminate based on people’s immigration status or nationality. At SLRA we work with people on all different forms of immigration routes, many of them struggling to survive outside the asylum system. We believe that a Borough of Sanctuary movement that responds adequately to the unique hyper-diverse context of London needs to be inclusive of different experiences of the hostile environment and support all who experience destitution and harm because of it, regardless of their current immigration status or route to settlement available to them.

The second lesson from the report was that “migrants participated in designing what a sanctuary borough should look like. This allowed them to take back their political agency, and be recognised as experts in the field of migration policy(Paul & Squire, 2019). Amplifying the voices of those with lived experience in the process and negotiations around the Borough of Sanctuary is also at the heart of our involvement in Lambeth. Together with a group of our community leaders we have reflected what sanctuary means to them. You can see here a summary of our discussion:

The Lambeth context

Alongside a range of other organisations advocating for migrants rights, SLRA is part of the Lambeth Citizens Migrant Justice Team (Herne Hill Welcomes Refugees, Refugees Welcome Lambeth, English for Action, Learning Unlimited). In the lead up to the last local elections in April 2022, we have advocated for a more welcoming Lambeth for all migrants. Based on listening to our communities and our joint experience of providing specialist support in the borough, we have identified clear gaps in support provision and concrete actions to make a change in those areas. Therefore we are calling on Lambeth Council to: (read full Lambeth Citizens Election Manifesto here)

(1) Invest in improving access to the provision of local, free, independent and regulated immigration advice so that families and adults can get the advice they need before they find themselves in crisis and in need of support from Lambeth. People with lived experience of the immigration or asylum system and local community organisations that represent them should be involved in shaping these advice services.

(2) Work in partnership with Lambeth Citizens to invest in an Early Intervention Scheme that identifies children and young people with insecure status and connects them with quality immigration advice to be supported towards achieving permanent status as soon as they are known to Lambeth Social Services.

(3) Appoint an ESOL coordinator with sufficient paid time to create and maintain a webpage on the council website with up to date information about local provision – and to work in partnership with EFA and the wider Lambeth ESOL community to bring us together for quarterly coordination meetings.

The current leader of Lambeth Council Claire Holland has committed to our asks at our Lambeth Citizens Election Assembly in May 2022 and we therefore hope that these will be at the heart of Lambeth’s Borough of Sanctuary strategy, delivering meaningful and sustainable change for asylum seekers, refugees and other migrants in Lambeth!

We would love to hear what sanctuary means to you!

Join our Borough of Sanctuary movement in Lambeth and make a picture of our your own Sanctuary message and post it on Twitter tagging @lambeth_council and @SLRAcharity using #BoroughofSanctuary #LambethLove

Follow us on twitter