Veteran civil rights activist Bernadette McAliskey has called on communities in Derry to make the city a ‘sanctuary’ for refugees by refusing to implement anti-immigrant policies handed down from central government.
She issued the call during a discussion on the status of immigrants in Ireland at The Playhouse on Friday.
Mrs. McAliskey was speaking after Dr. Conor Kenny, of Médecins Sans Frontières, discussed his own experiences working with migrants in Greece in the 2017 Seamus Deane Annual Lecture
The Cookstown community worker, who in her role as a director of the South Tyrone Empowerment Programme (STEP), actively promotes migrant workers’ rights, said Derry could become a real place of refuge for immigrants. She said large charities with deep pockets should be asked to ringfence funding to tackle homelessness among migrants and native citizens alike.
“Public pressure at local level could ensure that they invest some of their own money in direct service so that a homeless person has a bed for the night rather than a sad story of how the government won’t pay the charity to provide the bed. Every council, city, town, could have a ‘No Recourse to Public Funds Crisis Fund’ for those people living in their area who were destitute,” she said.
Communities can also take action by directly sponsoring refugees, said Mrs. McAliskey.
“There is a process through which a community partnership of local authorities; charities; community organisations; local employers and citizens can collectively and pro-actively offer a future to an individual or family within the immigration system. Every council, every city and town could offer one family a future.”
And Derry should continue work towards joining a growing league of ‘Sanctuary Cities’ worldwide, which she said were “beacons of hope whose names become known beyond the reach of city boundaries...places of welcome where human beings know their rights will be protected and they will be safe.”
She said such a move would allow “Derry City and its neighbourhood communities truly say ‘refugees are welcome here’.”