CAMPAIGNERS kicked off an asylum-seeking awareness week by pounding the streets of Wearside.
More than 20 refugees, sanctuary seekers and their supporters walked 13 miles to launch a series of events for Refugee Week, which began yesterday and ends on Sunday.
The walk, organised by Sunderland City of Sanctuary – part of the national organisation City of Sanctuary – started at Sunderland Minster and ended in North Shields.
Sunderland University chaplain, Reverend Chris Howson, said the event, and the week, aim to show the contribution which asylum seekers make to life in the city.
“It’s really nice to have those folk who have come to Sunderland and are a bit nervous, and realise that there are people who will welcome them,” he said.
“They also get to see parts of Sunderland which they wouldn’t ordinarily visit.
“A big problem is that people come to Sunderland then move to other areas of the country, where there are more jobs.
“We want to keep their skills in the North East, and hopefully by showing them what Sunderland has to offer, we can do that.”
Canon Sheila Bamber, Provost of Sunderland, said prayers at the start of the event, to mark the beginning of Refugee Week.
Rev Howson added: “Sunderland is a welcoming city, and though we only host less than 200 people seeking sanctuary each year, we play our part in protecting those who have fled torture and persecution throughout the world.
“The walk symbolised the long journey that people take to come to these shores, and our solidarity with those who have had to leave friends and family to escape oppression.
“Sunderland can often be perceived from outside as a racist and un-welcoming place, but actually, the vast majority of people in our historic city are generous and welcoming, and those few asylum seekers who come here are relieved to find a place of hospitality and kindness.”
Other events taking place throughout the week include a Stories of Sanctuary event, which will hear from people who have come to Wearside after fleeing the Syrian conflict.
The event takes place in St Mary’s Parish Hall, Bridge Street, from 6pm to 8pm, and awards will also be given to organisations such as Sunderland College and The Weekly Drop In for Refugees, for outstanding work in supporting those seeking sanctuary.
Other activities include a football tournament hosted by Young Asian Voices, a drumming session in Pop Recs, Fawcett Street, and art displays.