Deputy Mayor Dance agrees to valentine ‘date’ to discuss free asylum seeker bus travel

The Deputy Mayor was put on the spot at City Hall by a coalition of campaigners

Depuy Mayor Seb Dance stands with a bunch of flowers in front of city hall
Photo: Vida Baradarannia

Deputy Mayor Seb Dance received a Valentine’s Day card earlier this week delivered by 105 community leaders from Citizens UK and people seeking asylum. 

The Vcard, made by Middlesex University art students, and presented on Wednesday was intended to draw attention to the difficulties faced by people seeking asylum in travelling in the capital. 

Many people seeking asylum survive on £8.86 a week [1], whilst London bus fares cost £1.75. Research by Citizens UK has found mothers and young children have to walk long distances to go to primary school, as even though children have access to free bus travel, their parents do not.

Helen Bamber Foundation launched a report in October 2023 documenting stories from their clients, reporting that they struggle to attend important meetings such as hospital appointments because of the cost of public transport.

The card was delivered by a coalition of community leaders from across London including 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. 

The Deputy Mayor agreed to a ‘date’ to discuss the issue of bus travel for asylum seekers, 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.”

The Scottish Parliament made available £2 million to support free bus travel for people seeking asylum in Scotland in November 2023.

Fatma*, a mother claiming asylum in London, said: “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?”

Zarith, VOICES Network Ambassador and Human Rights Activist, said: “While London prides itself on being open for everyone, many of us are still struggling to get Queer-related community and health services as mainly we are being put on the outskirts of London. Having free bus travel to Central London and back would make integrating and getting the services safer.

“We need to restart our lives so we can contribute even further to the country and the city in which we seek sanctuary. Wales and Scotland proved that they can make this happen, and London can be part of this positive history for the world to see.”

Rabbi Rebecca Birk, Finchley Progressive Synagogue 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.”

Lewis Garland, CEO of Fences & Frontiers, said: “London is blessed with an incredible amount of free cultural activities.We welcome the Mayor of London’s decision to reduce tube fares on Fridays to enable access for these. However, for many of our participants, these activities remain out of reach due to prohibitive transport costs.

“Giving people seeking asylum the ability to explore London and fully participate in the cultural life of our city, would go a long way to helping them integrate and rebuild their lives. If we truly believe in a “London for Everyone” we must make London accessible for everyone.”

*Name changed at request

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