In 2017 Hastings Borough Council resolved to become a City of Sanctuary in response to an initiative launched by a local community group Hastings Supports Refugees (HSR), which had been founded by Jane Grimshaw two years before.  HSR was initially directing main efforts towards refugees in Calais and in Greece.

Hastings Community of Sanctuary (HCoS) is a network of groups which now co-ordinate humanitarian assistance both locally and abroad, and campaign for a change to the ‘hostile environment’ for refugees which it sees the government – and Home Secretary Priti Patel in particular – as promoting.

As one arm of HCoS, HSR is currently focusing on giving practical aid to passengers arriving on small boats, and has organised an emergency response team to field the boat arrivals in Hastings and adjacent beaches.

HCoS raises funds through its Festival programme. It also campaigns in opposition to the government’s Nationality and Borders Bill currently being debated in Parliament.

Felicity Laurence, HCoS media and campaigns organiser, is full of praise for the efforts not only of HSR volunteers but also for the responses of local police and the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution).  “Over the past weeks when several tiny boats have landed on or near our beaches, the HSR team have reported that the police have been consistently extremely professional, compassionate, and supportive of our efforts to help the people arriving”, she says. “This adds to our sense of a community pulling together – the amazing Hastings RNLI saving lives at sea, the ordinary Hastings people volunteering in the response team and bringing food and clothes to the beach, and the Police enabling our work alongside their own careful managing of these difficult situations, in a general atmosphere of caring and understanding.”

She sees the wider issue as both political and moral. “Hastings has joined towns along the south east coast in a frontline between two opposing stories – the story of kindness and compassion to the desperate fellow human beings who seek refuge with us, and the opposing narrative of extreme harshness towards those people, as now embedded in the Nationality and Borders Bill going through Parliament at the moment.”

A Rally for Refugees is being planned for Hastings by HCoS for Saturday 11 December in conjunction with International Human Rights Day being celebrated worldwide today (Friday).

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