Happy New Year. I hope that 2023 brings you joy, love, new friends, new thoughts and the reaffirmation of all that is already good, beautiful and true in your life. 2023 has certainly started well for three of closest friends. A gay couple finally had their love (and the risk to their life) recognised by the state. It was a fight, but the good guys won.
The third person for whom the New Year brings relief is the ever wonderful Chipo. It has taken her the best part of 18 years to persuade the Home Office that she is a political activist and in danger back home. From where I’m sitting, such behaviour would be cast as cruel and unusual punishment, instead, in the grand scheme of things, Chipo will just be yet another statistic. Still, I cannot put it better than Chipo did herself when she said, “Now I am a human again. Now I have my dignity back”. There will be a party in due course.
It’s that quest to see everyone in our neighbourhood as humans that makes this project so special. We slightly shortened our financial year. We are gradually trying to bring it in line with the calendar year. We just had our AGM and have published our annual report for the period 2021-2022 (you can find it here). We turned over a shade more than £90,000. Of that sum, just shy of £60,000 is money that you have donated. Thank you so much.
We claimed less than £2000 in Gift Aid in that period. We have yet to claim the full amount, but even so, only a small fraction of our donors have signed up for the Gift Aid scheme. For some of you that will be out of choice. We suspect that for a lot of you it’s because we have not given you the opportunity. Many of you have been part of this project for so long, that you started donating before we knew how the scheme worked. We decided very early on that we did not want to collect lots of data on our donors, because we don’t want to target you for more money. It does mean that we don’t know the names of some of the people giving us money and we cannot match up your donation with the contact details that we do hold, even if we have the details. That is okay. We like it like that, but if you are donating and you would like to give us the Gift Aid, then please take five minutes to fill in this form. Thank you.
Another bit of exciting news is that our sister organisation, the Sussex Refugee and Migrant Self Support Group, who organise the Jollof Café, are restaging their Refugee Valentine it’s going tobe bigger than ever this year. They have ambitiously booked out The Old Market in Hove. They have music from Tajikistan, Ukraine, Cuba and Senegal. As they say, it is a celebration of a love that crosses borders. It’s not that I, or they, have anything against romantic, monogamous, pair-bonding, it’s simply that there is more to love than that. There is more to be celebrated on Valentine’s Day than your beloved. It will be a celebration of all that is anathema to the Home Office: chaos, joy, movement, freedom, community, difference and, yes, love itself. It will also be a chance to dance the night away. Hopefully, we will see you there.
The awful news this month is the confirmation of our worst fear about
the use of hotel accommodation for unaccompanied asylum seeking
children. Namely, that children are going missing,
presumably having been taken by people who will be exploiting them in
unthinkable ways. This was a foreseeable and foreseen consequence of the
Home Office’s policy.
I find it extremely difficult to express myself on this subject. Everything I find myself saying feels either trite or wrong. We are lucky enough that one of our volunteers, Lauren, works with asylum seeking children who have been exploited in these ways. She makes it very clear that the people taking these children are violent, abusive scum. We cannot repeat that enough.
We also need to be very clear that the negligence and disregard for the welfare of these children is shocking in the extreme. The hotels are not in any sense children’s homes. We know that staff have been threatening the children, illegally detaining them and generally behaving as you might expect uncaring, untrained, underpaid and overwhelmed employees to behave. The young people are not assigned a social worker, they are not informed about the asylum process, they have no access to education, limited access to healthcare and no financial support. In short there is nobody anywhere near them who cares about in the least. None of that is acceptable in the slightest. The bare fact that about 200 children have gone missing from the Home Office’s ‘care’ should be enough for the Home Secretary to have to resign. When you realise the depth of her negligence and steps she has taken to hide it, it becomes depressing that Nadhim Zahawi is the politician dominating the front pages.
When you focus on the horror of what these people have been exposed to by the negligence of the responsible statutory authorities, you draw attention away from the politics that is at the root of this disaster. But of course, if we talk about the politics of it, we forget the brutality of the people prepared to abuse and profit from children and we forget the negligence of the state. Still, it is by criminalising movement and making it clear that these children are not welcome here that the UK government sowed the seeds for the disaster. The issue is much deeper than a failure to implement adequate safeguarding policies.
If you want to come to the UK to claim asylum, the chances are that you cannot come here on a Ryanair flight. You will have to cross numerous militarised land borders and at least one and probably two maritime borders. Hundreds of millions of pounds have been invested to prevent you from doing that. Those millions of pounds have been spent on equipment that has been put into the hands of border guards and police officers. Unsurprisingly, those agents of the state routinely act outside of the law and will harass you, beat you or worse. Your only possible way of getting to the UK is with the aid of the very people who are also running businesses on the back of abusing children. When you arrive in the UK, the Home Office makes it very clear that you are not wanted here. You or your friends may be prosecuted for facilitating illegal arrival. What you say will be ignored, disputed and disbelieved. You are dumped, unloved and isolated in one of these hotels. You will have to listen to the government and their friends and media screeching about how you are nothing but an illegal immigrant and fantasising about how they can transport people like you to Rwanda. This is particularly true for young people from Albania. It is one of the governments favourite lines that Albania is a safe country. Completely ignoring reality and their own past behaviour, they pretend that it is impossible to come from Albania and be a refugee. I cannot imagine that it takes much more than a handful of sweets to persuade these children that they have no hope of regularising their stay in the UK.
Here is perhaps the saddest thing. In the name of safeguarding, it is next to impossible for decent, kind, loving individuals or support organisations to get anywhere near the children. If we could, we would be able to tell them that they are not alone. that the Home Office says a lot of things, but that fundamentally, they are welcome here and they have a right to be here. Importantly we would tell them that, if we fight together, we can win that right. It is the love of a community that keeps children safe. The Home Office knows this, but for them the suffering and abuse of children is a price worth paying to prevent love from crossing borders because when love crosses borders, people do too.
Let’s keep building this community, let’s keep loving even where it is forbidden and let’s dance the night away at Refugee Valentine.
Love and a thousand thanks,