Bristol City Council is calling on the government to stop the detention of immigrants and asylum seekers.
Councillors voted overwhelmingly in favour of a ‘These Walls Must Fall’ motion presented by Councillor Fi Hance.
The motion calls on Bristol’s mayor to lobby the UK government to make a change in immigration law.
Bristol joins Manchester, Liverpool, Cambridge, Brighton and Hove, Islington and Lambeth as the first councils to approve these motions.
Kenneth Macharia, who had recently been battling immigration, joined campaigners ‘These Walls Must Fall’ at the council meeting.
Speaking to full council on Tuesday, Cllr Hance said: “Asylum seekers in this country suffer from abuses from a number of sources, one of the most pernicious abuses is from our own government in the form of indefinite detention.
“This practice has meant that innocent people have been taken from their homes and taken to detention centres which are essentially prisons in all but name.”
She went on to describe the poor immigration system and why there should be pressure for change.
“The immigration system is stacked against people who come to this country seeking safety… It is almost as if refugees are not welcome in Britain,” she added.
“The vast majority of those detained are released, which means they shouldn’t have been there in the first place. The government chooses to lock people up at enormous public cost.
“As a country we are spending millions of pounds every year unnecessarily detaining people who are some of the most vulnerable in our society.”
However, concerns were raised by Conservative Councillor Mark Weston.
“The motion is too extreme, saying you can’t have any form of detention is over the top and our amendment tried to make that distinction,” he told the meeting.
“The motion that put forward by the Green Party and Labour isn’t actually the same motion put forward in other cities, the motion in Cambridge aimed to end unlimited detention of migration and asylum seekers whereas the one in Bristol was the end of all forms of migration detention.
“This causes a problem. We need to reform our immigration system, it needs to be better and have presumption of liberty cut right through it, to improve standards. Migrants should be treated with humanity but there are exceptional cases where detention is the right way.”
Weston went on to suggest the motion was insignificant.
“It won’t change anything without any government policy. The council can lobby if it wants to but there isn’t a role that the council can do. I don’t think anything will change.”
‘Relieved and happy’
Cllr Hance praised the work of ‘These Walls Must Fall’ group stating they had been “brilliant and inspiring” in raising awareness of the problem, earning them a round of applause at the meeting.
David Ion of the ‘These Walls Must Fall’ group in Bristol described the motion as “symbolic” and hoped other councils would follow suite.
“Whilst working at Patchway police station, I would see people getting taken for detention and I realised it wasn’t right,” he said.
“I’m relieved and happy to see the motion being passed in Bristol.”
Top picture: Kenneth Macharia, second from right top row, alongside David Ion and the ‘These Walls Must Fall’ Bristol group