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Campaigners win ‘Valentine’s date’ with Transport Deputy Mayor on free bus travel for asylum seekers

Campaigners win ‘Valentine’s date’ with Transport Deputy Mayor on free bus travel for asylum seekers

Community leaders gathered outside City Hall, holding up signs in the shape of buses, asking for free bus travel for asylum seekers
Photo credits - Vida Baradarannia

On 7 February, over 100 community leaders, including people seeking asylum, who are campaigning for free bus travel for asylum seekers, gathered outside London City Hall to deliver a Valentine’s Day card to Deputy Mayor Seb Dance. The card asked him to agree to a 'date' to discuss the issue of bus travel for asylum seekers further.

The action was led by community leaders who had united from across London and organisations such as Citizens UK, the VOICES Network, Sufra NW London, Shpresa Programme, Finchley Progressive Synagogue, Finchley Reform Synagogue, St Barnabas & St James the Greater Walthamstow, New Citizens’ Gateway, and Fences & Frontiers.

Planned during the same time a Transport for London (TfL) board meeting was in session at City Hall, the leaders gathered outside and held up signs and handmade ‘love buses’ as a gift to the Deputy Mayor Seb Dance, with those seeking asylum having written the question “is there room on the bus for me?”.

Additionally, a Valentine’s Day card, which had been created by Middlesex University art students, was delivered to the Deputy Mayor, asking for a ‘date’ to discuss the issue of bus travel for asylum seekers.

The action was a success, with the Deputy Mayor receiving the card and telling campaigners:

‘You don’t need flowers to win my heart but you have my heart anyway… We will be following this up with a proper meeting to discuss your concerns. You’re absolutely right. London is for everyone!’

Deputy Mayor of London, Seb Dance, stands outside London City Hall alongside community organisers as he receives valentines day flowers and a card
Photo credits - Vida Baradarannia

Many people seeking asylum survive on £8.86 a week, whilst London bus fares cost £1.75. Research by Citizens UK found that mothers and young children have to walk long distances to get to their primary school, as even though children have access to free bus travel, this doesn’t extend to their parents. Others shared their experiences of being unwell and having to walk long distances to access healthcare because they couldn’t afford public transport.

Alongside this, one participant shared that they’d signed up to learn English but had to miss their class due to the cost of travel, with others sharing their difficulties in being able to access volunteering opportunities and cultural activities.

In October 2023, the Helen Bamber Foundation launched a report documenting stories from their clients, reporting that they struggle to attend important meetings such as hospital appointments because of the cost of public transport. Helen Bamber’s Kamena Dorling, head of policy, was in attendance and gave a speech outside City Hall calling for change.

The call for free bus travel for asylum seekers follows moves by the Scottish Parliament in November 2023, which made available £2 million to support free bus travel for people seeking asylum in Scotland.

The campaign forms part of Citizens UK’s manifesto for the London Mayoral election, which will lead to an “accountability assembly” with over 2000 attendees on 25th April, holding candidates running to be the next Mayor of London to account.

My health makes it difficult to walk. But I need to take my children to primary school every day. The youngest is only 5 years old. The school run is 15 minutes by bus, but because I only receive £8.86 a week, I force myself to walk 45 minutes each way. It's tiring and I have to keep stopping and take breaks, but my children need to go to school. I need to visit the GP a lot, but it's a 30-minute walk. After taking the kids to school, there's no money left for me to take the bus to see the GP. More often, I cancel my appointments. My health is suffering. What can I do? Fatma, a mother claiming asylum in London, said:

Rooted in our values of compassion and community, our synagogue is committed to supporting people seeking asylum. These people are our neighbours. They bring a strong desire to learn English, to send their children to school, and to actively participate in our community’s life. By denying people claiming asylum access to transportation, we inadvertently hinder their ability to integrate and add to the rich tapestry of our city. I strongly urge Seb Dance to meet with our coalition and explore effective solutions for welcoming and integrating our new neighbours Rabbi Rebecca Birk, Finchley Progressive Synagogue said

Posted by Sophie Thomhave-Lee on 9 Feb, 2024