Bristolians who have survived human rights abuses and war and sought sanctuary in the UK are to speak out at an event commemorating International Human Rights Day.

The anniversary, which  marks the UN’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 61 years ago,  will see people who fled countries such as Darfur, Somalia, Iran and Zimbabwe sharing their experiences at a conference entitled ‘Protection and Dignity – not Destitution’ at Newton Hall on Thursday 10th December.

 The conference, attended by leader of the council Cllr Barbara Janke, will examine the situation of refused asylum seekers, who are made destitute if they do not return to their countries of origin. A petition asking for the right to work for asylum seekers after six months, will also be presented to Bristol West MP Stephen Williams’ representative.Bristol Refugee Rights, Refugee Action, City of Sanctuary and St Nicholas of Tolentino, who work with asylum seekers and refugees in the city, are organising the event, which will hear testimonies from several asylum seekers at all stages of the asylum process. 

Maria, an asylum seeker from Zimbabwe, who came to the UK in 2002 and who is chairing the event, said: “We want to give our testimonies on this important anniversary to demonstrate that asylum seekers’ human rights are not being respected in this country. We feel that making people destitute is subjecting them to ‘inhuman and degrading treatment’, which is in breach of human rights legislation.”

Elinor Harris, area manager of Refugee Action in Bristol, said: “We and other organisations are seeing an increasing number of people coming to our doors who have no recourse to public funds but who tell us they are too afraid to return to their country of origin. It is vital that their voices are heard and that we are able to support people to make difficult decisions instead of make them homeless. People who cannot be returned home should be granted temporary protection until it is safe for them to leave.”

Caroline Beatty, Welcome Centre Manager at Bristol Refugee Rights, said: “Without the right to work or to appropriate support, many are now utterly destitute in Bristol, with no end in sight to their situations. This event will go some way to giving those people a voice and will give asylum seekers the chance to be heard by a wider audience.”

The invited audience will consist of representatives of local government and other statutory bodies, churches and other faith groups and the voluntary sector. They will include the Leader of the City Council, Cllr Barbara Janke, Mgr Gabriel Leyden, Vicar-General of the Roman Catholic diocese of Clifton, representing the Bishop and Archdeacon Tim McClure (representing the Anglican diocese of Bristol).

The event will take place between 4pm and 5pm .

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