Refugee Week: Why our actions must speak louder than words now

Birmingham: During Refugee Week, Cllr John Cotton, Cabinet Member for Social Justice, Community Safety and Equalities, looks at why those fleeing war and persecution need more than words of welcome.

Since last year’s Refugee Week we have seen the fall of Kabul, in Afghanistan as well as the war in Ukraine forcing millions of people to leave their homes and families to flee to safety.

This year – and going forward – the message is clear: every person has the right to seek safety – whoever they are, wherever they are from and when ever they are forced to flee, be it through war or persecution.

Birmingham is a friendly city, proud of the warm welcome it offers to people from all corners of the globe, but this week it’s worth pondering what we are doing to help new arrivals settle and make their own stories here.

Our city is one of the most ethnically diverse in the UK – with a population made up of 187 nationalities – but Birmingham is also a City of Sanctuary, offering a place of safety to all, including refugees from war-torn areas such as Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine.

However getting to safety is only part of their journey: refugees need time and opportunities to heal, learn, work and thrive – they also need solutions, such as to integrate with local communities and the chance to return home in safety.

The challenges they face when arriving in the West Midlands put them at risk of exploitation – as they may struggle in finding work, lack of knowledge of services available or awareness of their rights to access these effectively.

I’m looking forward to meeting some inspiring people this week, who have made lives for themselves since arriving in Birmingham or are helping arrivals get involved in their local communities.

As well as helping new arrivals develop and hone new employment skills, our welcome must also be about helping them to find opportunities that fit with their existing experience, qualifications and skills.

We want refugees and all migrants to get the opportunity to fulfill their potential, as we do for all citizens of Birmingham. Our City of Sanctuary policy demonstrates our resolution to welcome people to Birmingham and to support them to make it their home.

A series of events are being staged across the city during Refugee Week (18-26 June) celebrating the creativity, skills and talents within these communities, as well as highlighting the challenges they face.

Tomorrow (23 June) – 13.5ft (3.5m) puppet of 10-year-old refugee girl Little Amal will arrive in Birmingham and walk across the city centre from the Council House in Victoria Square to Centenary Square, where there will be a range of activities.

This will be followed by a Refugee Week Healing Party at Centrala, based at Minerva Works in Digbeth between 4-7pm.

Full details of these and various events across the city can be found on the Celebrating Sanctuary Birmingham website.

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