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Hastings Community of Sanctuary in the Media; meetings, events, letters to Hastings Observer and the Guardian; and the Home Office consultation.

A snapshot of the first 3 months of 2021.

Felicity Laurence, HCoS Media and Campaigns, March 2021

Over the past three months our Campaigns Team has joined many other organisations across the country in campaigning about the conditions of the men seeking asylum being held Napier Barracks, and for the closure of the barracks and any other similar mass asylum accommodation. See more here about our online event ‘Challenging the Barracks’, co-hosted with Hastings Supports Refugees, held in February (which you can watch here, passcode ^=E^4Su&), attended by over 60 local people; and our local media coverage before and after (p6) of this event. We are privileged to remain in contact with a former resident of the barracks, Erfan, who spoke eloquently at our event (see the letter by Erfan to the people of the UK here) and subsequently at many other national meetings and in the media: you can listen to him talking about his barracks experience here. See our dedicated page for links to many more articles published about our work here.

We have also been active in writing to the press with our concerns. Here is Sonia Hartman’s letter to the Hastings Observer  ̶  a heartfelt call that is acutely relevant in light of the Home Secretary’s proposed new legislation, which would bring into force an asylum policy of unprecedented harshness. Sonia’s final paragraph must resonate with the views of many people: “We are not a selfish nation, ready to throw those less fortunate than ourselves to the wolves…We are a civilised, compassionate nation…”

And Felicity Laurence’s letter to the Guardian (published 2nd February 2021):

“Years and years

Jack Shenker’s brilliant and devastating report on the Napier barracks lays out fundamental questions of who are we really as a people and what are our limits of intolerance and cruelty towards the ‘other’ who so inconveniently and persistently keeps coming here to seek sanctuary with us. He calls out the ‘dystopian vision’ of asylum policy as made explicit in the barracks. But we have glimpsed this already: remember the terrifying 2019 TV series, ‘Years and Years’? – when people were coming on boats across the Channel, crammed into decaying ex-army barracks – the ‘Erstwhile’ camps – in the middle of a lethal pandemic, and abandoned there to let nature take its course?

And remember too in this terrifying portrayal of what might be coming next, the high barbed wire fences and gates around the estates where poor people lived?

The men in the barracks are acutely aware of their status as less than human; “we are being treated like animals” is their anguished refrain: the German language encapsulates their plight in its handy concept of the “Untermensch”. The Home Office is as clear as it is possible to be – despite their mendacious mantra that ‘we take their welfare extremely seriously’ – that this group of people, now grotesquely referred to as ‘service users’, deserves the absolute least we can offer.

We need to understand that, at this pivotal moment of national re -self-identification, we are being tested to see how much inhumanity we will accept, as the Home Office places its agenda ever more blatantly into the public domain.

Be in no doubt: what they can get away with in a population that doesn’t matter will inform what then is possible to inflict upon the next layer of society, and then the one after that – until, as Martin Niemöller once lamented in his poem “First they came“, they get to you and me.”

HCoS was pleased to meet with our Council leader Kim Forward and a group of councillors and council officers to discuss implications of ongoing Home Office policies on accommodation for us here in Hastings, in terms of supporting and advocating for those who seek sanctuary here; and members of our Campaigns Team have now met for a fourth time with our MP Sally-Ann Hart to continue to explain our concerns and request her support in various ways. We also joined Hastings Stand up to Racism’s events (Covid-safe and legal) to mark the International World Against Racism day on March 20th; see film here.

The Home Office is now consulting on its new asylum legislation, to which plan there is already a torrent of condemnation and dismay. See this response from Natasha Walter, founder of Women for Refugee Women; and this response from Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg.

Individuals and groups can contribute their views, by 6th May, to that consultation, through this link:

“You enlightened our hopeless hearts” from a letter from the asylum seekers of Napier Barracks to all those trying to support them.