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Imagine. You are a young woman in your early 20’s. Early one morning in 2005 you were abducted by militia from your home in the Rwanda. You were imprisoned, tortured and raped. After a year you managed to escape and fled to Britain where you sought asylum. The Home Office dispersed you to Bradford. On arrival however you experienced suspicion and open hostility from neighbours – even from some professionals. Today you are still plagued by nightmares.

Those now working for City of Sanctuary status for Bradford are hoping to overcome the ignorance that led to this, and build a culture of welcome and hospitality for those who seek sanctuary here. “For some time a few excellent Bradford projects have been helping people like this young woman,” says Will Sutcliffe, chair of the City of Sanctuary Bradford working group. “Now many people of goodwill in Bradford from faith, community and other groups are committing themselves to see Bradford becoming a ‘City of Sanctuary’. It will make many practical differences and enhance Bradford’s global reputation. The message it puts out to the world is that our city has a generous, welcoming heart.”

Successfully launched in Sheffield in 2007 with the backing of the City Council, the City of Sanctuary movement is now a growing network of towns and cities across the UK in which a broad range of organisations work together with local government to welcome victims such as the woman above and ensure that they are fully integrated into their communities.

So what happened to the young woman? Traumatised and confused, she struggled to account for what had happened to her and was initially denied asylum. “Depressed and drained”, says Helen Kemp, a committee member of the City of Sanctuary Bradford working group, “She had to summon up the resources to fight for her life while reduced to poverty since she, like other asylum seekers, was forbidden to work.” But friends rallied to her side and helped her to restate her case. She won her appeal and was finally granted refugee status. She is now slowly coming to terms with her experience. “It’s one day at a time for her,” says Helen. “She’s found work and, like many who have lost so much, never misses an opportunity to help others.
Will Sutcliffe sums it up. “Our hope is that in future, City of Sanctuary Bradford will mean that negative stereotypes and ignorance concerning asylum seekers and refugees are overcome, and they are given the opportunity to fully contribute to the life of the city.”

For further information about City of Sanctuary Bradford, contact Will Sutcliffe on 01274 721626 or email [email protected]