‘Sometimes I fear people like me are not welcome in the UK – this means a great deal’

Qadir claimed asylum in the UK three years ago. Since then, the Pakistani national has been rebuilding his life here in Manchester.

Despite the meaningful friendships he’s made and the help he’s received, like many refugees in the UK, he still feels unwelcome sometimes. This Valentine’s Day, some of Greater Manchester’s most influential figures have written a love letter to refugees like Qadir.

The letter, which is signed by Wigan poet Lemn Sissay, Manchester Pride’s Mark Fletcher and Bishop of Salford John Arnold, expresses love and solidarity with refugees in the city-region, making it clear to political leaders that refugees are welcome in their community.

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“The welcome of local people means everything,” Qadir said. “I have had amazing support and made some wonderful friendships.

“But it can be isolating and difficult too. Sometimes I fear that people like me are not welcome in the UK. So this letter means a great deal.

“I know from experience that people in Manchester are kind and generous. Now other refugees, perhaps who have arrived more recently, can know that we are part of the community here and can make a good life with our new friends and neighbours.”

Lemn Sissay
Lemn Sissay

The letter, which calls for a ‘fair new plan’ for refugees, comes in the week the scheme to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda is being debated in the House of Lords. The local figures who have signed the letter are now calling for a ‘fair new plan’ for refugees.

It comes after a recent poll, commissioned by Together With Refugees, found that 80 per cent of the British public want an approach to the asylum system that is ‘well managed, fair and compassionate’. In the North West, the poll found 84 per cent shared this view.

The letter states: “We, representing various parts of Greater Manchester society including faiths, arts and culture, women’s rights, LGBTQ+ communities and education, have come together to sign this joint message. It serves as a testament to our unity in support of refugees and our call for a fair new plan.

“We firmly believe that given the opportunity, communities like ours go out of their way to welcome and support refugees – opening our homes, volunteering our time, speaking up and donating. And, given the chance, refugees do so much to enrich our society as they strive to build new lives.

“There is amazing work happening across Greater Manchester to uphold the rights and fulfil the needs of people seeking asylum and refugees. We champion the actions of the countless voluntary, community and faith organisations and the local authorities in Greater Manchester which work towards creating a place of sanctuary, here, for everyone.

“We’re grateful for your wonderful contributions to our communities, culture and economy.

“We want you to know that there is overwhelming support across Greater Manchester for a fair new plan for refugees, one that’s rooted in fairness, justice and compassion – a positive and viable alternative to the current refugee system. Now is the time for a fairer and more compassionate approach towards refugees in the UK.”

Rev Ian Rutherford
Reverend Ian Rutherford
(Image: ABNM Photography)

Reverend Ian Rutherford, City Centre Minister at Methodist Central Hall Manchester, who also signed the letter, said “For generations Greater Manchester has been a place of welcome and compassion, something I see in our building every day. I’m proud to sign this letter of love and solidarity to refugees this Valentine’s Day. It’s time for a new compassionate approach to refugees and people seeking asylum – one that reflects the kindness and support we see here in Greater Manchester.”

The Fair Begins Here campaign is calling for a fair new plan for refugees with:

  • Protection for people fleeing war and persecution by upholding the UK’s commitment under international law to the right to claim asylum and by scrapping the Rwanda scheme.
  • A proper strategy for welcoming refugees by ensuring fair, rapid decisions on their application for asylum, and the chance to rebuild their lives through settling in a community, being allowed to work and the chance to learn English.
  • Stronger global cooperation to tackle the root causes that force people to flee their homes and provides positive solutions when they do, including through safe routes to refugee protection.

With more than 600 members of Together With Refugees – from large national organisations to small grassroots projects – the Fair Begins Here campaign will continue across the UK throughout the year.

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