Last Friday, representatives from across Bristol’s refugee sector came together to meet Thangam Debbonaire, MP for Bristol West & Shadow Secretary of State for Housing and Homelessness. She requested the meeting in response to our joint letter on the Impact of Covid19 on those Seeking Sanctuary in Bristol, which was sent to her, the three other Bristol MPs and Mayor Marvin Rees.
Twenty people from across the sector, including those with lived experience of seeking sanctuary, joined the Zoom call on Friday lunchtime. Each person took the time to share stories of how they had seen or experienced the impact of the lockdown; the stories were heartbreaking, and we were left with feelings of simultaneous sadness over the difficulties people had gone through, and inspiration at the strength of solidarity amongst the sector.
For forty minutes, Thangam Debbonaire listened intently, taking notes on what people were sharing. At the end of the call, she gave an update on what she had already done in response to the letter and what she was planning to do going forward, both in her role as a local Constituency MP and in her role in the Shadow Cabinet. She said of the meeting, “It was a hugely inspiring, moving and sometimes upsetting discussion – life for people fleeing conflict and persecution is tough enough and many have had really difficult additional problems in lockdown. As a Bristol MP and as Shadow Housing Secretary I’m working hard with refugees and asylum seekers, the dedicated voluntary refugee sector in Bristol and colleagues to bring about positive change and this discussion made clear just how important this is.” For us, the meeting felt like a hugely positive step to achieving some of our goals; having a local MP who is both well-versed on the issues and passionate about improving the lives of people in her city, gives us all hope for the future.