Founder, City of Sanctuary UK, UK-wide
Revd. Dr Inderjit Singh Bhogal OBE knows well how it feels to arrive in a new place after a long journey. Born to Sikh parents in Nairobi, Inderjit and his family left Kenya as refugees after it achieved independence and spent nine months in what was then Tanganyika (now Tanzania) before arriving in Dudley in 1964.
"From my earliest days of life in the UK people of Asian backgrounds talked with me, because I was fluent in English, about their immigration concerns and paperwork,” writes Inderjit, today a leading theologian and Methodist Minister. “So personally, rather than professionally, I have become familiar with immigration matters, policies and procedures. I am familiar with the fears, frustrations, and pains of people of all backgrounds around these.”
After completing a Masters Degree in Oxford, Inderjit moved to Wolverhampton where he stayed for eight years, establishing and coordinating one of the UK’s first interfaith groups. He later did the same in Sheffield, organising peace walks and helping to create a homeless support project. It was in Sheffield that the seeds for City of Sanctuary were sown.
“In March 1997 I walked from Sheffield where I live, to 10 Downing Street, with a letter to the Prime Minister asking that Asylum Seekers are not detained in conventional prisons alongside convicted criminals, and for a fairer deal for Asylum Seekers,” writes Inderjit.
He walked from the Home Office to Campsfield Detention Centre in Oxford with the same mission, and later visited several of the largest detention centres in Britain and Northern Ireland in his capacity as President of the Methodist Conference in Britain, during which he wrote a report, ‘Unlocking The Doors (2001) which he sent to the Home Secretary.
"I have determined to take simple steps to seek justice, mercy and humility in policy and procedure,” he writes. “As a Methodist Minister, and Pastor, I have worked with others, especially in Churches, to critique and challenge policy and procedure where it has been unjust and discriminatory.”
In late 2005, Inderjit called a meeting with his colleague, Craig Barnett, to launch City of Sanctuary, an initiative to support a network of groups, including villages, towns, cities and regions across the UK, and others to deliver activities and projects intended to welcome people seeking sanctuary.
"City of Sanctuary builds on the history of sanctuary,” writes Inderjit. “City of Sanctuary moves the idea towards a vision where local communities and organisations work together to counter and challenge hostility, and create a culture of welcome, hospitality and safety for all residents.”
Just two years after Inderjit shared his vision, Sheffield was declared the UK’s first City of Sanctuary. In response to the growing support for the initiative, he and Craig wrote a book entitled “Building a City of Sanctuary” (2010).
"When I first shared the idea of Sheffield as a City of Sanctuary at a meeting in September 2005, I expected us to work four or five years to realise our objective,” writes Inderjit. “But after just two years we’d become a national movement and had the support of the Refugee Council...The idea of Sanctuary is catching the imagination of people.”
Today, there are over 100 cities and towns in Britain and Ireland working to build cultures of welcome and hospitality under the City of Sanctuary umbrella.
Inderjit was awarded the OBE in the New Year’s Honours List 2005 for his work in InterFaith relations.
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