On 11 November Leeds held its City of Sanctuary launch event, to celebrate the official beginning of a project which aims to make Leeds a more welcoming and enjoyable place to live for refugees and asylum seekers.
One of the 300 people attending the event was Anne Burghgraef, Clinical Manager at Solace, a charity that provides free counselling, psychotherapy and advocacy for refugees and asylum seekers who have suffered persecution. Anne was one of the first people to support the idea of Leeds becoming a City of Sanctuary over two years ago, and is thrilled that the movement has finally been launched.
“I grew up in an immigrant community in Canada before moving to England, and have some understanding of the experience of having to adapt to a new culture, of being an invisible foreigner. The world of asylum seekers is like a parallel universe. People don’t see them or even know they exist. City of Sanctuary is a great opportunity for the people of Leeds to get to know asylum seekers and their plight, and their lives will be enriched as a result.”
Anne became a therapist at Solace after studying psychology, social and psychotherapy in Toronto. She found that many traditional Western views of psychology were very individualistic and failed to take into account broader issues such as people’s worldview and culture. She hopes that City of Sanctuary will encourage Leeds to embrace these different cultures and help people feel more welcome and accepted within the city.
The importance of projects such as City of Sanctuary must not be underestimated: “Research into mental health suggests that the most significant factor affecting asylum seekers is the support they receive then they first enter the country. No matter what they have been through in their home country, if people are made to feel welcome and supported when they arrive then they find it much easier to adapt and move on with their lives.
“Many people come here with education and skills but find the way of life here so different that they are unable to put their skills to use. Something I would like to see happen with City of Sanctuary is a co-operative scheme where skilled local people provide mentoring and support to refugees, to help them adapt and use their skills in a way that benefits both them and the rest of the community.”
City of Sanctuary is a fantastic opportunity to improve awareness of the issues faced by refugees and asylum seekers and to help people regain control of their lives, restoring dignity and promoting social integration. Anne hopes that the launch is just the beginning of the realisation of that opportunity: “I’m a developer; I want to see things grow. This is an opportunity to hear people’s stories. It is a blessing to have the chance to learn about so many people’s countries and cultures.”
Solace website: www.solace-uk.org.uk