COUNCILLORS have backed calls to make Winchester a ‘city of sanctuary’ welcoming refugees and asylum seekers.

Winchester City Council says that the status highlights that the district is committed to welcoming those fleeing persecution in their own countries and recognises the potential contribution they can make.

Four families from Afghanistan have recently been resettled in Winchester following the devastation in that country last summer.

Councillors came together to agree a plan to support organisations, charities and community groups in their in their work to make Winchester a place of sanctuary.

They also want to challenge anti-refugee and anti-migrant attitudes and support the Southampton and Winchester Visitors Group and Winchester City of Sanctuary in the promotion of the Together with Refugees campaign calling for a fairer, kinder and more effective approach to supporting refugees in the UK.

Cllr John Tippett-Cooper, who proposed the motion at a council meeting, said that it was the Afghan crisis which highlighted the kindness and support of Winchester people.

He said: “It was that crisis that showed me the very best of Winchester and this district and for every venomous Tweet made behind a cowardly anonymous Twitter account that sought to dehumanise refugees there are hundred people in our district that donated clothes, money, skills to Afghan evacuees last summer.

“I hope this will be the first step in Winchester becoming a sanctuary for all people seeking asylum and refuge.

“Applying for asylum is a long, hard and uncertain process and the people that do so often suffer trauma.

“This motion seeks to continue and shine a spotlight on the very hard work of wonderful community organisations.

“This motion is an expression of hope, it’s an expression of our city and our district's kindness and our decency, our expression to do as much as we can to help some of the most vulnerable people.”

Cllr Tippett-Cooper spoke of his parents-in-law who were asylum seekers.

Cllr Kathleen Becker said at the meeting: “It was so inspiring to see the offers of help from the people of Winchester to the Afghan refugees last year. I personally had neighbours offering spare bedrooms to strangers.

“This is a city and district built on kindness and generosity and becoming a city of sanctuary is a natural progression of those values.

“Taking this step sends a message to refugees and migrants that you are welcome here.”

The City of Sanctuary is a movement started in 2005 and it is a network of community groups, councils, schools, universities across the UK who are working to provide support and welcome to people seeking sanctuary in the country.


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Kimberley Barber