What is a Sanctuary Meeting? Quakers in Britain’s Tatiana Garavito explains …

At the recent CTBI Churches’ Refugee Network conference, Tatiana Garavito introduced the Quaker programme of Sanctuary Meetings. A racial justice activist and organiser, Tatiana was just three weeks into her new role as Sanctuary Everywhere Programme Manager with Quakers in Britain.

“There are many, many reasons why people migrate and seek asylum in this country and I’ve been learning about all those things in the last three weeks.”

Quakers in Britain published its ‘Sanctuary Everywhere Manifesto‘ in December 2017.  Tatiana explained that the manifesto “is the result of a lot of work Quakers have been doing throughout many years on the issue of sanctuary”.

As Quakers, we have long worked for peace and equality, because of our belief that there is that of God in everyone, everywhere, whoever they are.

Through Quakers’ longstanding work welcoming newcomers to our shores, we have seen up close that the government’s creation of a ‘hostile environment’ is increasingly embedding policies of discrimination into the practices of the British state. Quakers in Britain are committed to working with others to change this, creating a culture of compassion and welcoming hospitality that answers that of God in every person.

Our Meeting for Sufferings was born of a response to the government’s systematic discrimination against Quakers in the past. Today we turn that experience into solidarity, and stand against all oppression and suffering. We declare our determination to work for sanctuary everywhere, including here in Britain, by agreeing this Manifesto for change.

Tatiana then listed the ‘pledges’ within the manifesto that was agreed by the Quakers’ national decision making body.

Human rights standards for all should be the foundation on which any national policy or international agreement on migration is founded, and these include the right to work, to learn, to housing, to medical care and to security in the event of adverse circumstances beyond personal control.

We will campaign for change to the asylum process so that it is built on a culture of compassion and practical response, rather than starting from an assumption of disbelief.

Within the UK system of immigration detention is institutional violence and discrimination. We oppose indefinite detention, which we believe neither right nor necessary, and will work towards the closure of all detention centres. Other more humane policies are more effective and should be introduced.

Our belief in every human being’s equality leads us to oppose unjust deportations and removals, whether to the EU or to the wider world.

The humanitarian risks of trafficking and unsafe passage lead us to work for new, peaceful, safer routes of migration including the introduction of humanitarian visas and improved rules for family reunion.

To ourselves and wider society, we reaffirm our determination to acknowledge and dismantle discrimination in all of its forms, wherever it is to be found.

Tatania went on to explain how the Sanctuary Everywhere programme she manages offers funding, guidance and political advocacy support to a network of Quaker local and area meetings who pledge to create a culture of welcome in their communities.

“A local meeting or an area meeting can become a Sanctuary Meeting by committing to three things.”

  • Joining local initiatives to build a culture of welcome.
  • Building alliances with groups opposing racism. We work in collaboration with groups that are opposing racism. Because we know that a lot of these policies and laws are embedding that in racism
  • Working with others to change the laws on destitution, detention, deportations and removals.

(While Quakers have a long history of activism and lobbying for laws to be changed, these three commitments could be informally taken up by any church.)

As programme manager, Tatania is supporting the 53 local meetings that have become Sanctuary Meeting since December. “It’s doing quite well!” she explained. “I’m supporting groups to continue to network locally, but also planning our policy work for the next year so that so that we can work together to change those things.”

The Quaker in Britain website suggests some practical steps that Sanctuary Meetings can consider undertaking, including

  • offering accompaniment to people seeking sanctuary in negotiating ‘everyday borders’ such as healthcare and the education system;
  • campaign advocacy and lobbying local politicians;
  • affiliating with a local City of Sanctuary group;
  • joining a visiting group if there is an immigration detention centre within travelling distance;
  • turning property into houses of hospitality for people made destitute by the asylum system.

Lots more information to be found on their Sanctuary Meetings webpage and Tatania’s blog post about the Sanctuary Everywhere programme.