Firstly, apologies for not sending out a newsletter last month. It has all been rather busy at T4K towers. People do say very nice things about the newsletter, but I can’t imagine that it was sorely missed.
I would like to claim that one of the reasons that I have been busy is that I was heavily involved in one wonderful family moving out and the welcoming of another. That would be a lie. It was all done by my fantastic colleagues. I was busy with the Jollof Café, bits and pieces of support and the related, but independent, work I do for the Alarm Phone.
You supported our former residents for over two years whilst the Home Office made a decision on their asylum claim. Against the relentless hostility of the Home Office, what you do is a drop in the ocean (sign up your friends. We need to expand). Still, it makes me glad that at least one family did not have to go through the gruelling horror that is Home Office asylum support. At the moment, if you arrive in the UK as an asylum seeker, you are likely to be billeted in a hotel. Whatever the Daily Mail my claim this is not a pleasant experience. People are stuck in hotel accommodation for months or even years. After much legal wrangling, you might be able to get £8 a week (I think that figure may now be £12.95, but I can’t find a source to back-up my memory that there was a change). The food that you are given is notoriously bad. You are, in effect, left to rot. Even if you do eventually get given a house or, if you’re without family, a room in a shared house, it is on a no choice basis. You are unlikely to be living anywhere near what contacts you might have in the UK. “Support” is provided by Migrant Help. It’s a phone line, that doesn’t really seem to do very much. It does allow you to report problems. I guess that it is good that there is a log somewhere.
To give you a sense of what people have to face, back in the summer the Home Office decided to change the provider of the cash card on which your asylum support is loaded. In their very helpful and damning report, Asylum Matters reckon that 16,000 families and individuals were left without cash and about 3000 people had to wait at least six weeks to receive the new card. Anyone, by definition, in receipt of the asylum support is destitute. Without friends, strangers and charities, people would have starved. We had to deal with a bit of the fallout. We wrote any number of emails to Migrant Help and whiled away many a happy hour listening to their hold music. I doubt that it made much difference. People eventually received their new cards and the Home Office concluded, according to Asylum Matters, that things had gone according to plan. Perhaps they did.
What Hospitality Looks Like
In contrast, the family you supported had a house and garden. They were near the church, relatives and friends. They had Annie, Derek, Sally, Sue and the rest of the t4k team there to help out. The younger daughter took part in the Hummingbird project. She used the wait to get her medical qualifications recognised in the UK. Once they got their leave, within six weeks they’d moved on to their own house and are going to be poster children for refugees as teachers, doctors, dentists and all round good eggs. I am proud that you made that possible. We hope that we can provide as warm a welcome to the new family in residence. They have come from Afghanistan.
A Human Death
This, however, is a newsletter that is touched by death. There is the obvious and looming shadow of the 27 people who lost their lives in the channel on Wednesday morning. There is also the more human death of Aidan Healey. He was the father of one of our supporters, Jane Healey. I say a human death because Aidan was 95. He had been able to bring his particular brand of joy to the world. His life was not interrupted by the need to abandon his home nor did it end before he had had a chance to start again somewhere else. Jane, in honour of her father, asked the mourners to donate to us. She says this about Aidan:
Aidan was a kind, compassionate man who devoted his entire life to public service – and never sought out the spotlight.
His work in the Prison Service until 62 years old was then followed by establishing a network of trainers in ‘Control and Restraint’ (Now an organisation called General Services Association with over 2,000 members). He was tireless and ambitious, taking his courses out to a wide range of frontline staff who faced violence in the course of their work – psychiatric nurses, social workers, bus drivers, specialist teachers, police officers and prison staff. His ethos was to train others to lead.
He used a quote by Lao Tse, “The best leader is hardly noticed…the worst is feared and secretly despised. When the work of the good leader is done, the people will say ‘we did this ourselves’ “. This was his way – humble and affirming of others.
Finally ‘retiring ‘ at 74 years old he touched many people’s lives with love and humour and left a legacy that we can all aspire towards.
His ‘family’ was extensive and included friends, colleagues, mentees as well as his wife, children and grandchildren. He is always in our thoughts and will be greatly missed.
I hope that we will do him credit and that his memory will be for a blessing.
A World Without Mercy
The people who died in the channel died a much less human death. I was asked to speak at the vigil at the peace statue last night. One of us will be speaking at the vigil in Jubilee Square tomorrow. In truth, what is there to say? I turned to poetry and read Yehuda Amichai’s (sub)version of the traditional, if you’re a Jew, prayer for the dead:
God Full of Mercy – A Prayer for the Dead
If God was not full of mercy,
Mercy would have been in the world,
Not just in Him.
I, who plucked flowers in the hills
And looked down into all the valleys,
I, who brought corpses down from the hills,
Can tell you that the world is empty of mercy.
I, who was King of Salt at the seashore,
Who stood without a decision at my window,
Who counted the steps of angels,
Whose heart lifted weights of anguish
In the horrible contests.
I, who use only a small part
Of the words in the dictionary.
I, who must decipher riddles
I don’t want to decipher,
Know that if not for the God-full-of-mercy
There would be mercy in the world,
Not just in Him.
I wanted to read it precisely because it was written by an Israeli Jew. The outpouring of collective grief for people that we never had the chance to know struck me as profound. I felt so acutely the hypocrisy of a hyper-mobile ruling class solemnly proclaiming the need for tighter border controls to prevent such tragedies from occurring. As we have seen at the fences of the Ceuta and Melilla, quite literally, the higher they build their barriers, the higher we climb to overcome them. Tightening border controls is simply going to kill more people.
In some ways that’s not even the issue. Movement is joy. As Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah teaches, the Jewish tradition is a human tradition. All humans can partake in it. It’s mine, but it is also yours. I don’t know if Rabbi Elli would add this, but I think that it’s mine in a different way from the way it’s an Iraqi Kurd’s. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that we draw strength and joy from each other’s particularity. We recognise that we are thrown together. The thing that we have in common is that each one of us is unique. We share that and it makes us a human community. When they drown Iraqi Kurds in the channel, I mourn for them as a Jew because we are all human.
The other reason that I read that is that we need a world full of compassion. I have spoken to people on boats in distress in the middle of the sea. A common refrain is “where are the human rights?” It is a cry for mercy. We gathered at the peace statue because we want a world full of mercy. We know that such a world as possible. This project, your generosity, the homes that you have made show that we can make space for all. We know that movement is not a problem. On the contrary movement is joy. It wasn’t a problem when our great grandparents came from the pale of settlement or Ireland. It still wasn’t a problem when our grandparents came from the Caribbean and our parents from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Nor was it a problem when we availed ourselves of our membership of the European Union to explore pastures new. Migration made this town. It transformed this country and it will remake the world tomorrow.
A thousand thanks,