City Of Sanctuary

Inderjit Bhogal, past Director of the Corrymeela Community in Ballycastle, played a key role in the formation of the City of Sanctuary Project in Sheffield. After looking at the concept of sanctuary in Christian and other religious traditions (the word ‘sanctuary’ comes from the Latin word for a sacred or holy space) Bhogal explored ways in which the idea could be applied to the problems facing refugees and the communities in which they find themselves. As a result of his work, Sheffield became the UK’s first official ‘City of Sanctuary’ in 2007, committing itself to taking pride in the welcome it offers to people in need of safety, working with other statutory and voluntary groups to enable refugees and asylum seekers to be fully included in the life of the city. Since then a National City of Sanctuary Movement has evolved with 22 Cities of Sanctuary established across the UK and a further 15 projects under development.

The Derry Londonderry City of Sanctuary project came into being after Inderjit Bhogal spoke to the AGM of The Junction Peace Building Initiative. With support from the Community Relations Council, The Junction subsequently undertook a series of consultations to assess the feasibility of launching a City of Sanctuary in the city to tie in with, and complement, Derry Londonderry’s role as the UK’s first City of Culture this year.

Locally, the City of Sanctuary movement seeks to build a culture of hospitality for people seeking refuge from persecution. It aims to do this through the promotion of awareness of refugee issues and by working with existing agencies to ensure that practical measures are taken to include refugees in local activities and services, to address obstacles to this inclusion and to enable refugees to contribute to the life of the community.

One of the questions most frequently asked in response to the consultations undertaken by the City of Sanctuary project was “How can we provide a welcome for those escaping persecution in other countries when we can’t look after the people of our own city?” The City of Sanctuary movement is also about recognising and valuing all peoples from different ethnic, religious, cultural backgrounds who reside here or come to visit and, equally important, it is about creating a safe and welcoming place for those who live here but who do not feel safe because of a personal lived experience of verbal and physical abuse, bullying, marginalisation and other forms of violence and exclusion. In pursuance of these objectives, the City of Sanctuary commits to the following:

• Publish the findings and Guiding Principles arising out of the consultation.
• Request individuals and/or groups, organisations across the different sectors, which have responsibility for the health and wellbeing of our community, to sign up to the Guiding Principles and offering a practical actionable step towards creating a safe and welcoming place for all.
• Meet all requirements of the National ‘City of Sanctuary’ Movement to become a City of Sanctuary.

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  1. To bring together relevant groups and agencies to work in partnership towards creating Derry/Londonderry as a City of Sanctuary.
  2. To create a place where everyone is welcome, everyone feels safe and accepted.
  3. To recognise and value all people from different community, religious, ethnic and cultural backgrounds who already live here or come to visit.
  4. To challenge hostility towards those who have come to seek sanctuary and to challenge the expulsion of local people from the City

Key Findings

Holywell Consultancy consulted through one-to-one meetings and focus groups. The following outlines our findings:

An overwhelming majority of those consulted felt that the City of Sanctuary is a positive concept, which could be developed in the Derry/Londonderry area.

Many of those consulted felt that Derry/Londonderry as a City of Sanctuary had a unique need in that the concept of providing sanctuary should include not just those coming from outside the City but should also address the expulsion of local people.

The city is well-placed to embrace others who need to find sanctuary.

The established City of Sanctuary should challenge and oppose the expulsion of local people from the City.

This presents an opportunity for the people of the city to unite to create a place where everyone is welcome, everyone feels safe and accepted.

Many of those consulted felt that the development of Derry/Londonderry as a City of Sanctuary needs to fit in with already existing plans such as the One Plan and the City of Culture legacy.

We all have a role and a responsibility to ensure that everyone who lives here or who comes here to visit is made to feel welcome and safe. It is important to get as many people as possible to pledge support to the City of Sanctuary concept.

It is important to have ground work done to promote the concept of the City of Sanctuary in order that it is fully understood by everyone.

This work is important and needs to be done properly by having all the key groups and agencies involved. This will ensure there is no duplication with other existing work and that the City of Sanctuary partnership offers a service/support that is not already being provided.

Who should be involved:

PSNI, Policing & Community Safety Partnerships, Housing Executive, Education, DSD, NI Housing Executive, Foreign Commonwealth Office, Department of Foreign Affair, Derry City Council, Foyle Women’s Aid, DiverseCity Community Partnership, Foyle Multicultural Forum, NICEM, Western Health Trust, Churches and faith communities.