Following a popular rally in October, Together With Refugees returned to the city centre on Saturday (December 11) in protest against the Nationality and Borders Bill.
The rally, co-organised with Bristol University Amnesty International, attracted some 100 people – far more than in October – to the Fountain Steps. Here the crowd, braced against the cold, heard speeches against the Bill and the callous attitude to refugees and asylum seekers it represents.
Co-organiser Jo Benefield said that the rally was held to further mobilise public opposition to the Bill via their public statement, published online by Bristol City of Sanctuary.
Anyone is free to add their name to the 479 already signed on the statement. Mayor Marvin Rees, all four Bristol MPs, and Bristol’s Green, Labour and Lib Dem councillor groups have all done signed.
Present at the demo was Sarah Cooper, manager of Bristol City of Sanctuary. Speaking to TBA, Cooper said that she hopes the statement will reach 1000 signatures.
‘The more people that sign [the statement] the more we can really say, legitimately, the people of Bristol feel that this Bill is not the right approach.
‘It creates a two-tier system that is unjust and also won’t be effective.’
The Nationality and Borders Bill, introduced to Parliament by Priti Patel earlier this year, would make it a criminal offence to arrive in the UK by “irregular means” such as sailing across the Channel. Anyone seeking to claim asylum after arriving in such a way would be deemed inadmissible, detained and potentially deported.
Campaigners say that this will create a two-tier system of “deserving” refugees, who arrive through resettlement schemes, and “undeserving” refugees who arrive through irregular means.
In their public statement, Bristol City of Sanctuary say: ‘We agree that the asylum system needs a massive overhaul. In its current state it is ineffective and inhumane; these proposals will only make that worse. Penalising people for seeking sanctuary here through irregular routes is unfair and unjust, especially when there is little other option.’
Against the bleak national picture, both Benefield and Cooper see reasons for hope in Bristol.
Benefield pointed to the large turnout for the demo, as well as the recent surge in donations to the RNLI. She said: ‘That tells you something. The turnout today tells you something, on a cold day like this.’
Cooper likewise sees Bristol as a beacon of hope but added: ‘We need to turn hope into impact’ and urged people to sign the public statement.
Together With Refugees is a national network of grassroots, community and refugee-led groups, international development charities, trade unions and faith groups campaigning for a better approach to supporting refugees that is more effective, fair and humane.