Refugee Support: Notes from Southwark Borough of Sanctuary

By Chara de Lacey

On Wednesday 16 October, Southwark Borough of Sanctuary held a public meeting to discuss what it would mean to make Southwark a place of sanctuary for refugees, asylum seekers and other migrant communities.

The meeting involved a number of Southwark-based organisations on the front line of campaigning for refugee rights. Here are some of their thoughts on the Southwark Borough of Sanctuary initiative:

Ben Margolis
The City of Sanctuary

“It’s time to put in place the change we want to see in the world”

Ben Margolis – The City of Sanctuary

The City of Sanctuary movement in the UK has grown to over 115 active sanctuary cities, institutions – including schools, faith centres and universities – and London boroughs, and the various ways communities can support those needing sanctuary.

Sustaining sanctuary initiatives needs a core of committed people and the commitment itself to be embedded across the network. This may mean waiting until Southwark Borough of Sanctuary movement “has teeth” before approaching Southwark council.

Sanctuary movements must counter the “hostile environment” from the Home Office by creating welcoming communities that celebrate diversity.

Rosario Guimba-Stewart
Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network

“What does sanctuary mean to you and what are the barriers faced?”

Rosario Guimba-Stewart – Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network

We must support migrant communities, including setting up a steering group for the Southwark Borough of Sanctuary, agree specific actions that must be made to reach our goals, and campaign for additional rights, such as free school meals and to lift the ban on asylum seekers working.

What does ‘santuary mean’, and how does it relate to the issues they face?

Warren Lee
Southwark Day Centre for Asylum Seekers

“We can barely see beyond immediate front line issues”

Warren Lee – Southwark Day Centre for Asylum Seekers

Warren Lee from Southwark Day Centre for Asylum Seekers spoke of the vulnerability of many who access their services who may be experiencing homelessness and be alienated from essential services.

Warren welcomed the idea of an umbrella initiative to support long term planning, which can be a difficult for those who use and work in front line services.

Gabriella D’Avino
Peckham Sponsors

“There are lots of great people who want to do lots of great things”

There are many ways people can get involved. Peckham Sponsors welcomed its first family in March this year. Gabriella highlighted the benefit of joining community sponsorship schemes and the ways people can provide skills and/or financial support. We heard that the Bermondsey Welcomes Refugees scheme was launching the following day.


We need to change the cultural narrative around migration and challenge institutional barriers as the local council – although a key partner – cannot build a borough of sanctuary alone. This needs to be an ongoing process.

We must set concrete actions, like find ways to offer ESOL lessons so we can plan and identify “wins” such as LRMN securing the removal of the Home Office representative from Lewisham Council.

Southwark Borough of Sanctuary can be a mechanism for holding the council to account by ensuring that council officers act sympathetically towards asylum seekers.

Actions suggested during the meeting and in the feedback forms include:

  1. Hold regular publicised meetings
  2. Help local groups and organisations to understand the law around status-checking
  3. Identify legal rights for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants
  4. Create an action plan with specific targets
  5. Ensure the voices of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants are represented
  6. Outline what actions individuals can take

Get Involved!

Formed in November 2018, the Southwark Borough of Sanctuary is a local community movement working to ensure Southwark is a recognised ‘Borough of Sanctuary’ that proudly welcomes refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.

The campaign is part of the wider national City of Sanctuary movement which aims to create a network of towns and cities throughout the UK which are proud to be places of safety and inclusion for people seeking sanctuary.

If you’d like to get involved, visit our Southwark Borough of Sanctuary web page and sign the pledge:

Or get in contact:

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