Students from Fairfield High School (FHS) were privileged to attend a special event in Bristol’s City Hall to learn about, and reflect upon, refugee and asylum issues.
The students were chosen (together with a handful of secondary and Post 16 education providers) following the interest they had shown in being trained as ‘Sanctuary Ambassadors’ – a new role created within Bristol City Council’s Schools of Sanctuary initiative to help spread the message of welcome and inclusion amongst schools.
The conference included hearing first hand accounts of those directly involved in the asylum system, including Bristol Refugee Rights’ Voice Project, Sanctuary scholars from University of Bristol plus a volunteer from the Signing Support Group, whose volunteers accompany asylum seekers to the immigration reporting centre, often a daunting and isolating task in itself.
To deepen their understanding of the asylum process, the students also participated in discussions, interactive exercises plus workshops. One of the highlights was hearing from John Stokes, a foster father, whose highly topical and publicised petition to save the deportation of an Albanian 18 year old, was supported by 250,000 signatures.
Another influential speaker was Marvyn Rees, Mayor of Bristol, who gave his perspective on migration and his efforts to make Bristol more inclusive.
This event, organised by Bristol City of Sanctuary’s Schools of Sanctuary Group, in partnership with Bristol City Council’s Youth Team, aimed to empower the ambassadors so that they can help raise awareness of sanctuary issues to help make their schools more safe and inclusive.
According to Ruth Pickersgill, Labour Councillor for the Easton ward, the event was very much a success:
“I am always so impressed with the creativity of young people and they came up with amazing ideas to take back. This included setting up social justice welcome groups, making and selling refugee badges and awareness raising videos, starting campaigns against the injustices of the asylum system, collecting food and money to support destitute asylum seekers, volunteering for different groups, supporting ESOL teaching and much more.”
Archie, a Year 10 students who attended the event explains:
“What struck me most was how unfair the whole asylum system. We heard from John Stokes, who is campaigning to keep his foster son Samet in the UK and has been told by the Home Office that he will be deported now he’s 18. John was inspirational. It makes you want to take action, tell everyone about it.”
Student Islay adds:
“It was very moving to hear about the dangerous journeys asylum seekers often have and the difficulties they face. We wrote an action plan and want to work with organisations to raise awareness in the school and the community. It makes you want to help.”