Events marking the annual Refugee Week began early this year in the Yorkshire city of Hull – the UK’s 2017 ‘City of Culture’. Nationally celebrated between June 19th-25th, events in Hull began on June 17th with a large cultural festival featuring a range of musical performances, art installations and grassroots and NGO-run activities.
On Tuesday June 20th, World Refugee Day, the city was officially declared as a ‘City of Sanctuary’ during the UK’s national celebration of Refugee Week which was held at Hull Minster – the first time the event has been held outside of London. Speakers at the event included former Speaker of the House of Lords Baroness d’Souza and several refugees who have settled in Hull.
The City of Sanctuary movement this year marks its tenth year working ‘to create a network of towns and cities throughout the country which are proud to be places of safety for people seeking sanctuary and helping them integrate into their local communities’. Nearly 100 cities across the UK have now joined the initiative following the lead set by Sheffield in 2007.
Although it has taken Hull ten years to be officially recognised as a City of Sanctuary, the city has a long history as a place of both refuge and transit for displaced people. Hull’s geographic location on the North Sea coast and its significance as a major British port meant that it was one of the main areas through which Jewish refugees fleeing persecution in Europe passed in the 19th and 20th centuries. Later, in 1937, Hull was among the cities that welcomed child refugees from the Basque country during the Spanish Civil War following Franco’s bombing of Guernica.
More recently, refugees from many different countries including Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and various African countries have sought refugee in Hull as the global wave of mass displacement continues.
Introducing the event at Hull Minster which officially announced Hull as a City of Sanctuary, Syrian refugee Roua eloquently told audience members that it should not be sound-bytes or statistics that define people:
‘Refugee’ is not what defines us. It is what we do and who we are that defines us.