Campaigning for Free Bus Travel for People Seeking Asylum

We said, “Ooh-ooh, Seb Dance make buses free!”

How Sufra NW London is campaigning to make buses free for asylum seekers in London

By Ben Witcombe – Community Engagement Manager at Sufra NW London

Building a campaign team

It started with a listening. Not a ‘just waiting until your turn to speak’ listening. Not a ‘trying to secretly check the football scores’ listening. Not a ‘thinking about whether you can catch the next train home if you end the conversation now’ listening. A real listening.

In Sufra’s garden yurt, we gathered six people who were seeking asylum to share their stories of why public transport was so important to them, and why the cost of bus travel was so problematic. People seeking asylum in hotels with food receive less than £9 per day for clothes, school supplies, non-prescription medicines, phone credit, travel, and other essentials. And a return bus journey is over one third of their weekly limit.

We heard about the challenges with getting to English language classes and the difficulty of cultural familiarisation without being able to move around the city. We heard about how hard it is for people seeking asylum with disabilities, especially when needing to see a doctor, and the stress that this causes. And we heard about how emergency situations become even more difficult without funds. One person’s daughter went to a school 45 minutes away, and she said she could not move if her daughter needed her to be there.

It was an incredibly powerful and emotive event. I found it humbling and saddening that this was a reality for the people sharing their stories in the yurt and for many more outside of it. But there was a great energy in the space. Because not only were our team of campaigners thankful for their story to be heard, but we were all committed to fighting for change.

Winning a ‘Valentine’s date’ with Transport Deputy Mayor

We’ve joined Citizens UK and community organisations who are similarly committed to making bus travel free for people seeking asylum in London. And together, we set our sights on City Hall, to speak to Seb Dance, the Deputy Mayor of London for Transport. One hundred and five participants congregated from twenty-four organisations.

Representatives from our assembly spoke passionately about their experience. We chanted, we danced, and we sung. Our rallying cry, to the tune of Shut Up and Dance with Me by Walk the Moon was, “ooh-ooh, Seb Dance make buses free!

As it’s just a week off Valentine’s Day, we offered Seb Dance some flowers and a card, asking for a date…to meet with us. Our romantic gesture was well received, and Seb Dance took our card, agreeing to a meeting with enthusiasm for our message:

“Public transport has to be public. It has to be available for everybody. The campaign that you’re running is really, really important. Your message is well heard, it’s well delivered, and you don’t need flowers to win my heart, but you have my heart anyway. You’re absolutely right, London is for everyone.”

So, what’s next?

Well, we’ll put across our points to Seb Dance when we meet, using the testimony which has been collected from people seeking asylum across London. And hundreds of us will meet to challenge Mayoral candidates on the 25th of April at a Citizens UK Mayoral Assembly, before the Mayoral elections in May.

I’m excited. It feels fantastic to have a team around me who are brave enough to share their experiences, to inspire, and to make a change which will improve their lives and the lives of all people seeking asylum in London. So, when I go to bed tonight, I’m sure our chant will still be rattling around in my head: Seb Dance, London is for everyone, is there room on the bus for all of us?

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