[An article printed in the Migrant Voice election newspaper]
The politicians are on the back foot, argues Jonathan Cox, and this is the best opportunity in a generation to commit the mainstream parties to rebuilding support for sanctuary and ending the detention of children.
Our nation provided sanctuary to Huguenots fleeing religious persecution in 17th century France, Jews fleeing the Nazi regime in the 1930s, Ugandan Asians forced out by Idi Amin in the 1970s, Bosnians escaping ethnic cleansing in the 1990s and Zimbabweans seeking a safe haven today. Our tradition of providing sanctuary is part of what makes Britain great. That tradition is under threat.
In recent years the rise of extremist politics, media scare stories, and high profile failings by the Home Office have led to this issue becoming a political football. Yet over two-thirds of the public still think it is important that the UK provides sanctuary to people fleeing persecution. We agree. We believe that sanctuary should not just be part of the UK’s history. It should be part of our future too. We want our political representatives to agree too.
This is a time of incredible political opportunity. With an election in the offing the polls are predicting a close battle, with a hung parliament, minority administration or an entirely new government all being possibilities. This will also be the youngest and most inexperienced parliament since the time of Cromwell, with many MPs standing down or likely to lose their seats to be replaced by fresh faces.
Since its creation last year, CITIZENS for Sanctuary has achieved considerable success at local level – organising teams of citizens to tackle slum housing, the issue of cashlessness, and unduly harsh reporting requirements across the UK. Now we are ready to make change in national politics through the Sanctuary Pledge. The Sanctuary Pledge is based on the recommendations of the Independent Asylum Commission (IAC) and calls on those who seek to represent us in Parliament to agree that our tradition of sanctuary is precious, to affirm the IAC’s five sanctuary principles, and to take five concrete actions, one of which is to support policies that will bring an end to the detention of children and families for immigration purposes. You can read the Sanctuary Pledge in full here: http://www.sanctuarypledge.org.uk/.
Our campaign strategy is to train delegations of citizens in 200 of the most important battleground constituencies to meet face-to-face with their Prospective Parliamentary Candidates and ask them to sign the Sanctuary Pledge. If they do not sign they will then be asked publicly at the local hustings to explain why it is that they want to lock up innocent children. Thus far, not many politicians have been keen to have to answer that question in front of an audience!
But our strategy is not primarily based on moral arguments. Our strategy is based on the power of community organising which asserts that when we organise leaders of communities to take action we can make change happen. The Sanctuary Pledge is supported by 16 organisations representing 7 million people across the country. But for success we need ordinary citizens - like you - to convince your local candidates to sign the Sanctuary Pledge before the election.
We have the best opportunity in a generation to secure long-term political support for sanctuary and to end the detention of children. If we delay until after the election it will be too late - the power will have shifted from the people to the politicians. So action now is imperative – please work with us to make sure your Prospective Parliamentary Candidates support the Sanctuary Pledge. Your action, along with the actions of many people like you across the country acting in concert, really will make a difference.
If you would like to take action to support the Sanctuary Pledge please email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website http://www.sanctuarypledge.org.uk/ .
Jonathan Cox is the Lead Organiser of CITIZENS for Sanctuary and Director of the Sanctuary Pledge campaign.