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Open Letter to our MP Sally-Ann Hart and our petition with over 1000 signatures from Hastings people!

On Friday afternoon 11th March, a group of Hastings Community of Sanctuary members and faith leaders held a short vigil outside the office of our MP Sally-Ann Hart. We delivered our letter to Ms Hart requesting her to vote for the Lords’ amendments to the Nationality and Borders Bill, together with a petition that has gained a remarkable 1263 signatures from her constituents. We hope that she will take notice of the mounting upset as people find out what the Bill will really mean, and the growing awareness of just how damaging this Bill would be in its original form, not only to so many people seeking sanctuary with us, but to the very values that our society is built on.

Letter to Sally-Ann Hart MP

Thursday 10th March 2022

Dear Sally-Ann Hart,

We are writing to you as a matter of urgency as the Nationality and Borders Bill returns imminently to Parliament for its final passage into law.

Over the past months, it has become constantly clearer that support here for people fleeing war and persecution is widespread among your constituents. We have collected well over 1000 signatures on our petition asking you to oppose the Bill; every signature represents an ‘ordinary’ citizen with whom we have spoken – on the streets, in shops, in churches, pubs, cafés  – and other places. Most recently, at the rally in Hastings on Sunday 6th March in support of Ukrainian people, people were in fact queuing up to sign this petition.

We have found a repeated concern that the Bill’s provisions are simply too harsh, with a general unhappiness at the removal of the right to seek asylum and the criminalising of anyone who arrives in a small boat or by other spontaneous means.  On the question of offshoring people in distant countries, there is real horror – even where people are worried about how we might cope with a refugee influx.

Again, on the question of turning boats round at sea, we have noted tangible distress. One man told us that he was a fisherman from Rye, and that they had been instructed to report any refugee boat they found but then to leave it to drift. He told us that he simply would not obey this – his absolute responsibility was to save any life in danger on the sea, and he was utterly clear about that – no matter who they were or where they came from.

In the recent events around the arrival of small boats on our beaches, not only has the story of the decency and compassion of Hastings people gained national and indeed international attention, but the response within the town has been phenomenal.  In a short time, over £34,000 was donated to Hastings Supports Refugees, an enormous amount for a small town, representing nearly 850 single donations. In addition to this were the huge quantities of new clothing bought and donated for people arriving on the tiny boats, and the active participation and help from many businesses across the town.

Here are just a few of the hundreds of comments accompanying these donations.

Thank you for your compassion and everything you’re doing to help give others a second chance in life.

Living the very best of values; thank you for the amazing contribution you’re making to those in desperate need of our help and support!

From the children in our wonderful procession on Capers night (Robertsbridge Christmas Capers)

Thanks for reflecting the humane and decent side of local people and helping those in need.

We should feel so happy that we are lucky enough to live in a country where other people want to come and live, because they would feel safe and be able to prosper. Also donating to RNLI

I come from Hastings and I am very proud of what you are doing!

I too come from Hastings, and am so glad to hear of what you are doing . . . more than pleased to add my support 

You’re truly amazing and help the most vulnerable. This donation instead of sending Christmas cards this year

Thank you for your hard work. This is first and foremost to welcome & support the refugees who come to the town but also to try to convince the world that not all people from Hastings are the same

Thanks for all you do to make refugees feel respected and welcome here when our government looks the other way

Objections to the Bill’s legal and moral underpinnings are manifold, from prominent law societies, from every refugee agency and indeed the from the United Nations itself; and now from a powerful collective voice expressed in the recent letter from over 1000 faith leaders to the Prime Minister. They capture our own view in a nutshell when they say that Clause 11, which would remove the right to claim asylum based upon people’s mode of arrival rather than their need for protection, is ‘dishonourable and disgraceful’.  A representative of our group recently encountered the head of the British Red Cross at a royal palace event. On learning of our work, he immediately expressed his most grave worries about the Bill. Indeed, the respected Red Cross is one of the founding members of the national coalition Asylum Reform Initiative, of which Hastings Community of Sanctuary is a member, which opposes this Bill and works for a far better and kinder way of fulfilling our moral and legal duties towards those seeking asylum.

We know that there are other, less welcoming voices. But in our experience over the past months these are in a tiny minority – in fact, we could count on one hand the number of directly hostile opinions we have encountered. We put it to you that the repeated polling from various sources which time and again shows a majority of 60-75% of people throughout the UK who want a humane and fair asylum system is indisputably reflected within your own constituency.

As people from Afghanistan and now Ukraine continue to seek refuge, along with those fleeing other main theatres of war, the need for compassion and safe routes and a decent, humane and well-functioning asylum system will only increase, and Hastings as a town on our Channel border will increasingly play a pivotal role in this.

We state here very clearly that on all evidence a majority of your constituents do not support the legislation being proposed by the Government in the Nationality and Borders Bill, and therefore we are asking that as our representative in Parliament, you vote accordingly. We ask you to vote for the many amendments now agreed by the Lords, which collectively would transform the Bill.

In particular:

Please will you vote for the amendment to remove Clause 11 – agreed decisively in the Lords (with 204 votes to 126) and thus against the removal of the right to seek asylum for anyone arriving without permission, and their criminalisation. 

Please vote for the proposed commitment to resettle 10,000 refugees annually.

Please vote for the removal of Clause 9, which concerns the deprivation of British citizenship without notice, an aspect of the Bill that has aroused huge concern across the country, especially among BAME and Muslim communities who feel intensely vulnerable to this Clause.

And please vote for the removal of any provision for sending people to a third country -the ‘offshoring’ which so upsets your constituents, thus removing entirely any possibility of sending men, women and children to be detained in a remote country . We note that in the vote against offshoring in the Lords (passed 208:155) Baroness Philippa Stroud led the rebellion against offshoring.  She is a former adviser to Iain Duncan Smith and commands a lot of support among Conservative MPs: she has stated that offshore detention is “ill-defined but far-reaching, expensive yet ineffective, exposing people to further trauma rather than offering protection.”

In the end, it comes down to who we really are as a people, and our underpinning values.  We agree with the faith leaders that “the values that bind UK citizens together, especially those concerning human dignity and life, will be fundamentally damaged by this Bill”.  We believe that the Home Secretary misjudges and indeed demeans the British people when she claims their overall support for this Bill. We believe that by their words and their actions, ordinary Hastings people have shown beyond doubt their support for Hastings as a Community of Sanctuary,  the intrinsic kindness, decency and compassion that lie at the core of our country’s underpinning values, and that we welcome and wish to support all our fellow human beings who arrive and ask for our protection.

Yours sincerely,

Jane Grimshaw, Co-Chair Hastings Community of Sanctuary, and Convener Hastings Supports Refugees – (over 3000 supporters)

Polly Gifford, Co-Chair Hastings Community of Sanctuary, and Director Sanctuary Festival

Rachel Lowden, Founder Hastings Supports Refugees Emergency Response Team

Dr Felicity Laurence, Co-lead HCoS Campaigns Team

Jay Kramer, Co-Lead HCoS Campaigns Team

From the wider Hastings Community

Bishop Laurie Green, former Bishop of Bradwell

Revd Luke Dean, St John the Evangelist, Hollington

Rossana Leal, Founder and Director of the Refugee Buddy Project: Hastings, Rother & Wealden

Dr Mursheda Chowdhury, Chair of The Refugee Buddy Project: Hastings, Rother & Wealden

Yeser Mohammad, Trustee, The Refugee Buddy Project: Hastings, Rother & Wealden

Susan Munroe, former CEO Freedom from Torture

Olivia Cavanagh, Immigration lawyer, Immigration Legal Service, BHT Sussex

Pal Luthra, member of Amnesty and East Sussex Freedom from Torture

Simon Hester, Chair, Hastings & District TUC

Jess Steele OBE, Commoner-at-Large, Hastings Commons

Shiva Serati, Founder Women’s Voice Hastings

Cllr Kim Forward, Leader of Hastings Borough Council

Cllr Paul Barnett, Deputy Leader HBC

Cllr Peter Chowney, Cabinet Member for Finance and Property, HBC

Cllr Trevor Webb, HBC, co-leader East Sussex County Council Labour group,

Cllr Andy Batsford, Housing Portfolio Holder HBC

Cllr Maya Evans, Author of Afghanistan: Hidden Voices from a Forgotten War.

Cllr Julia Hilton, HBC, ESCC

Prof Richard Wistreich, Royal College of Music and Trustee Heart of Hastings

Rachael Roser, Parishioner, St Mary Star of the Sea

David and Joanna Giles, Parishioners, St Mary Star of the Sea

Lyndsay Tomlinson, Community and Refugee Support Worker, Westfield and Hastings

Annette Angell, former Head of Department in F.E. for Business and Economics, Refugee Support Worker

Irfan Chowdhury, PhD student