On Saturday 13th June, I had the privilege of taking part in the annual justice First five-a-side football tournament at the Goal football complex in Middlesbrough. This excellent and uplifting tournament has been taking place since 2010 and again the day saw a wonderful mixture of people from many different backgrounds coming together to enjoy the beautiful game and forge new friendships.
Justice First are based in Stockton and do a great job of helping asylum seekers to get their cases together. This is a process often fraught with difficulties, as the asylum seekers have often had to flee at very short notice, without time to gather the relevant documents, whilst ever more stringent rules from the Home Office make it harder and harder for genuine asylum seekers to be given the chance of safety they so desperately need. When you add to that the difficulties of living on a very low income, the frustration of being not allowed to use their often very considerable skills to help both our economy and society, whilst often having to learn a new language, then it is fair to say that, despite what some might think, the life of an asylum seeker in Northeast England today is not an easy one.
The great thing about the Justice First football tournament is that football is again able to prove that it can be such a positive feature of society. on the pitch all are equal and the result depends on the skill and energy of those in either team, not to any unfair advantages.
Perhaps the most important part of the tournament is that asylum seekers and locals can get together and interact as fellow humans and friends. This is so important because it seems that so rare that asylum seekers are represented as simply human beings like the rest of us. More commonly they seem to be viewed as some sort of existential threat. In many cases in the media, we never learn their names, merely that we are being swamped or flooded by unnamed members of the human race.
The Justice First tournament is a very timely reminder that asylum seekers are our fellow humans, who have often been through terribly traumatic experiences we wouldn't wish on our own worst enemies and who deserve to be treated with dignity and compassion.
After all that is exactly what our great traditions of solidarity, fairness and tolerance have led so many of our predecessors in our great region to do, in so many different circumstances in the past, from opposing the slave trade, to supporting refugees from the Spanish Civil war, to the great work of organisation such as Justice First, the West End Refugee Service in Newcastle, the Star and Shadow Conversation Group in Newcastle and so many other great NGOs throughout the region today.
Long may the proud traditions of solidarity, fairness and tolerance in Northeast England continue!