I ask every man and woman, all of us, to overcome the paralysis of fear, the indifference that kills, the cynical disregard that nonchalantly condemns to death those on the fringes.
Let us stop ignoring reality, stop constantly shifting responsibility, stop passing off the issue of migration to others as if it mattered to no-one and was only a pointless burden to be shouldered by somebody else. Let us not let our sea be transformed into a desolate sea of death.
Everyone who needs help from the Sunderland Community Soup Kitchen gets help. That’s one lesson I’ve learned from talking with Andrea Bell and other people associated with our wonderful partner charity. It doesn't matter who you are, or where you’re from - in their eyes you are one thing and one thing only - a fellow human being in need and someone deserving of dignity and respect.
Dignity and respect.
That is something that the people who arrive in Sunderland as asylum seekers, refugees, and victims of human trafficking need and deserve in abundance, and it’s something that Andrea and her volunteers have provided to numerous individuals and families in desperate circumstances. When I spoke to a worker from one of the agencies that has referred new arrivals to the Soup Kitchen for support earlier this week, I learned that those two things can make all the difference to their integration into our society.
A warm welcome and looking out for the underdog; these two traits the people of Wearside have always been famous for; our hospitality and openness are well renowned. And this is exemplified in the work that Sunderland Community Soup Kitchen have done to support those people who flee war, discrimination, and persecution abroad, and to those who fall prey to human traffickers and sexual exploiters in this country and beyond.
We know the richness and vibrancy that incomers can bring to our city, and in the football community, we have seen how the talents of those who have come here seeking to better themselves, and those from families who’ve escaped danger elsewhere and have embraced opportunities through football with a drive and determination to succeed against the odds, can find a home like no other here.
People who come to our city can struggle to begin with - our accent and dialect can flummox someone from south of Northallerton - but with the support of our unique community, they can become beloved and valued members in their own right.
In the UK today, asylum seekers and victims of human trafficking are marginalised and even criminalised for merely having crossed a border. They exit on the edges of society, barred from working even though their skills and abilities could be used to help others. Yet we know that there are even professional athletes who are living in the north east denied the chance to continue their careers and earn a good living, independent of social support, purely because of their immigration status.
If plans in front of Parliament now are implemented, it will become essentially illegal for people seeking refugees to exercise their United Nations treaty rights upon entering this country. Those who have made it here already are often isolated, left in poor accommodation with, in the case of those seeking refugee status, only £39.90 per week to feed themselves, clothe themselves, or heat their homes.
This allowance is meant to stretch to buying toys and school uniforms and shoes for children. It is needed to top up mobile phones so people can keep in touch with the authorities or their loved ones abroad. It is supposed to cover those emergencies - the Calpol needed late at night for a child with fever, the extra blanket, the broken appliance.
When this meager sum runs out, as it inevitably does, or while new arrivals wait for their cases to be initially assessed, or if there’s a snag in the system - whatever further challenge life might throw at folk who are often already scarred, traumatised, and fearful - the Sunderland Community Soup Kitchen steps in.
What people in desperate need, those vilified and demonised and pushed out to the margins, require is non-judgemental acceptance. Overt racism is, thankfully, rare despite the recent rises in hate crimes and the efforts of the far-right to seed fear, mistrust, and division in our area.
The Soup Kitchen has provided toys to children of three young mothers who’ve been trafficked to this country and used and abused for sex. The Soup Kitchen has provided cultural food for trafficked people sheltering in safe houses. The Soup Kitchen has been the first port of call for people who’ve been picked up by the authorities and just need a hot meal. The Soup Kitchen has provided asylum seekers with culturally-appropriate food packages and baby items for families, household goods, Christmas lunch, and Christmas toys.
Refugees, asylum seekers and victims of human trafficking are a minority in our community, and a minority of those supported by the amazing work done at Albert’s Place and the outreach work provided by Andrea, her volunteers, and the agencies with whom they work.
The new arrivals are helped alongside homeless veterans, local young people who’ve been kicked out of home, care leavers, and those simply forced by economic circumstances to seek assistance to feed themselves and their families.
You can help to support all of this phenomenal work by donating your time or your money to the Sunderland Community Soup Kitchen this winter. Please do give what you can.