Video and words by Stela Taneva and Pamela Bilalova
Asylum seekers, refugees and members of the community celebrated the end of the 19th National Refugee Week in Sunderland Minister – despite Brexit vote and anti-immigration protests in Newcastle just the day before.
Chris Howson, one of the organisers, said that England has always been very good at welcoming people and National Refugee Week celebrates that.: “We take people who’ve been refugees in our community for a long time and people who’ve only just recently arrived and make sure people have fun and are encouraged to feel welcomed. ”
The speech of asylum seeker Abraham, from Nigeria, was one of the key moments in the event. The human resource practitioner fled his home country, because of his sexual orientation.
Homosexuality is a criminal offence in Nigeria. LGBT people there can face a maximum punishment of 14 years in jail or even death by stoning in some areas. If their family and friends know about their sexuality and refuse to report them to the police, they risk 10 year imprisonment.
Abraham said: “At the moment, being a gay man or a lesbian is a no-go area if you are in Nigeria. That is why I’m in the UK, trying to seek asylum and protection.”
Once he is granted his status, he hopes to go back to university to study law and “represent vulnerable voices in the community.”
There are more than 3000 asylum seekers in the North East, placed in dispersal accommodation around the region. Their main countries of origin in 2015 were Eritrea, Sudan, Iran and Syria.
Until they have been granted the status of asylum, they are held in a completely unique system, where they cannot choose where to live and are not allowed to work. A typical asylum seeker has to live on £36.62 per week – just over £5 per day.
At the end of March 2013, there were 193 asylum seekers in Sunderland.
For more information go to www.citypfsanctuary.org