Bristol declared the City of Sanctuary



{jcomments on}Lord Mayor of Bristol Councillor Geoff Gollop / photography by Iqbal Tamimi

The Lord Mayor of Bristol caught texting during a ceremony….is he a citizen journalist?


By Iqbal Tamimi


What was Lord Mayor, Councillor Geoff Gollop, texting during the Bristol’s City of sanctuary launch yesterday, Wednesday 22nd June?


I have attended the Bristol City of Sanctuary Launch, where the city of Bristol sang “Refugees are Welcome Here”.  Hundreds of blue umbrellas danced on a mix of a Latin American, African drums and Asian music at Bristol city council. The dancers were of every shade of colour.  People of different nationalities hugged each other rejoicing the new warm welcome. Every detail was prepared with full care that even at the Tea and Civic welcome party; the cakes were decorated with little blue umbrellas that matched the umbrellas held by the participants, displaying the motto of Bristol the city of sanctuary.

It is difficult to give up on old habits. According to an old saying in the Middle East, ‘The piper dies but his fingers keep playing’. During the ceremony I caught our Mayor dabbling with his mobile phone. I guess he was probably texting someone ‘WE R NOT DONE YET’.  I could not help but to capture that moment and ask him whether he was tweeting. He confessed that he has tweeted in the morning about the celebration. It seems that people working in very demanding jobs, are forced to keep upgrading their IT skills to keep in touch with others through the cyber sphere. Not only our Mayor uses Twitter to keep in touch with the Bristolians, I have found out that he has a flicker page group too. Is our mayor a citizen journalist? I doubt that he has the time after finding out that he has performed the citizenship ceremonies for people from 30 different nationalities last month.

Lord Mayor of Bristol Councillor Geoff Gollop and Iqbal Tamimi

During the launch party, the first edition of the ‘Bristol Globe’ magazine was distributed, and on its cover a full photo of the statue of Raja Rammohun Roy, the Indian reformer whose memory is preserved in Bristol’s College Green. Bristol Globe’s editor, Mike Jempson, said that the idea of the magazine is to introduce newcomers to the city and local citizens to their neighbors.

The momentous celebration of Bristol as a city of sanctuary has placed the city on the national map as the first and most welcoming city in UK for those who were forced to leave their home countries fleeing persecutions, injustice, poverty, conflicts and wars.

Inderjit Bhogal, the founder and national chair of the City of Sanctuary movement, see such project of extreme importance because of immigration related crimes that needs to be exposed and ended to protect the most vulnerable. He Says:  “In the context of injustice and people desiring safety, it is monstrous that there are those who seek to make money out of people’s misery. Human trafficking and the associated sex and child trafficking trade is today’s slave trade. Hundreds of children trafficked into the UK are disappearing each year from the care system (550 in the last three and half years).

The sanctuary seekers participated in the most colourful procession of umbrellas, music, song and dance across College Green, followed by an exquisite experience – a physical, metaphorical and emotional journey through Bristol Cathedral.

Being one of five million Palestinian refugees, who were forced into exile from their home country, I have the deepest feelings of gratitude to the Bristolians who helped my people in Gaza after the Operation Cast Lead attack by the Israeli army, that left 1300 people dead, and thousands, mainly women and children, maimed and traumatized, while their city under siege was flattened to the ground.

The Bristolians donated through three convoys of aid, artificial limbs, armchairs, clothes and medicine. Bristolian artists expressed their solidarity through their art. Our own world renowned Bristolian Graffiti artist, Banksy, made his views known to the world through his paintings on the apartheid wall that is strangling the holy city and splitting family homes and family members. Bristolian artist Cliff Hanley went to Gaza in person and offered his emotional support to fellow Gaza artists who can’t participate in international exhibitions, because of the enforced siege by the Israeli authorities. A Full scholarship has been available at UWE for a Palestinian postgraduate student and an Israeli Refusenik.

The Bristol Gaza Link Association was launched in Bristol on 28th September 2009 at a historical event supported by Bristol City Council and by members of all political parties, including local members of Parliament, aiming to build humanitarian, cultural and educational links between the people of Bristol and Gaza.

At 6 pm the Bristol Cathedral’s bells started tolling for joy, at that moment, all I could think of is the sound deeply engraved in my childhood memory, of the bells of the churches of my home land in Bethlehem, which was our reward from my father should we behaved ourselves that he would take us to listen to the bells. Bethlehem is under siege behind high walls, and the children of Palestine are deprived of the joy that we had as children. Wearied how little acts of kindness can change our lives and how some blessings are taking for granted, such as the bells of the local Cathedral that can be a comforting sound that bring some people, like myself, feelings of being home.

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