By Nick Pelling

In the wake of the recent Sanctuary festival, two online meetings have been organised, in order to allow people in Hastings to get a fuller understanding of the refugee question and possible changes to UK asylum law.

The campaigning group Hastings Community of Sanctuary (HCoS) are currently sharply focused on opposing the Nationality and Borders Bill, which is now in committee stage in parliament. The group have set up an online meeting next Tuesday 5th October at 7.30 pm which will feature Bella Sankey, Director of Detention Action, as a guest speaker. The main purpose of the meeting is to give a detailed analysis of the bill’s proposals and its current progress. According to Dr Felicity Laurence, one of the group’s organisers, the bill will make it a crime to enter the UK “spontaneously,” as she puts it. To arrive without legal permission may result in subsequent deportation, possibly even to offshore detention camps, or even four years in prison (though the government has gone rather quiet on the literally far-flung idea of a camp on the Ascension Islands). It is also feared that it will become a crime for anyone who seeks to help those people. 

CREDIT: Nick Pelling

A second concerned group is Hastings Against War (HAW). They are also holding a meeting on the same Tuesday evening in conjunction with the Rother Interfaith Forum as part of their programme of regular meetings on the first Tuesday of each month. The apparent clash of meetings perhaps only goes to show that there is growing urgency surrounding this topic, given that Hastings and the south coast are on the front line. Speaking to John Enefer of HAW, it is clear that there is a “difference of emphasis” between the two meetings: the HAW group will feature a talk by Rossana Leal, a director of the Refugee Buddy Project. The group, according to its website, aims to “work with people seeking refuge and not for them” – in other words, to listen to the needs of refugees already in and around Hastings.  

There may be those who feel that the issues are not so clear-cut. The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, argues that the current asylum system is “broken” and needs reform, to help “genuine” asylum seekers but also to deter illegal immigration and profiteering criminal gangs. Concerned groups suggest that the right to genuine asylum is being steadily eroded. It is probably desirable that people of all persuasions attend such meetings and that light replaces heat. It may be, however, given the empathy gap between them, that the aims of the government and the hopes of the Hastings groups cannot be made to reconcile. The political struggle looks likely to continue for some time.

To register for the HCOS event, go to

To more information on the HAW meeting, check [email protected]

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