A very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Hopefully none of you are too worse for wear reading this, although if you are I hope it’s because you had a wonderful and Covid-safe time last night. It feels strange drafting a newsletter on New Year’s Eve, but it is the last Friday of the month and one is due.
The Old Year
We actually held our AGM at the beginning of December. Our financial years run from April to April, so we had a chance to reflect on what we had done in most of 2020 and a little bit of 2021. Dani put together our gorgeous annual report. I found it really moving to see a summary of all the phenomenal things that this community organisation has done. I have attached the report, so you can have a look at it for yourself. I won’t repeat all the really moving stories that you can find (and share). Though it feels a bit mercenary, I will say that the accounts really took my breath away. We turned over just shy of £120,000 (£118,559 to be exact). We are not sustaining ourselves through grant funding. We receive less than £8000 that way. We sublet a couple of homes, but unlike other organisations, we don’t use that to cross subsidise people without leave to remain. The vast majority of our income, just under £85,000, is from donations and fundraising.
These figures not only represent massive amounts of work for our treasurer, Jim, they are, I think, quite extraordinary. Nobody is paid in the organisation and our admin costs are absolutely minimal (less than £600). We spent just under £11,000 paying the fees of the various payment processing providers that handle some of our donations (and you can reduce that figure by switching from a direct debit through gocardless to a standing order at your bank). Almost everything else, well over £100,000, went directly to the people who the Home Office sees fit to target for the non-crime of crossing borders. It’s a massive thank you that is owed to you. It’s a massive thank you that is owed to all the volunteers. The continued existence of Thousand 4 Thousand is a living proof that we would rather have a hospitable than hostile environment and that we do have a vision (now and then) of a world where every neighbour is a friend. Happy New Year.
Room at the Inn
We can’t rest on our laurels and we haven’t been. Over Christmas we have been trying to raise £7000, so that the community of Brighton and Hove can give £100 to each one of its newest residents. 70 people, mostly in family groups, have been billeted in a hotel in the city. Life in institutional asylum accommodation is miserable. It is New Year, so I will spare the horror. You can read the Asylum Matters report. People expect to be there for at least three months. At the moment they are not receiving any cash support, although hopefully that will start soon and without a legal challenge. Even when it does, it is peanuts (£8/week). Care for Calais have been absolute heroes and sorted out phones, warm jackets, shoes, lawyers, other essentials, but people need more. If nothing else, you need a bit of autonomy. We are often asked if we can get toys for the children, decent nutritious food. Different people will be in need of different things.
Getting people money also seemed the most straightforward. We are all about the straightforward. The whole ethos is that somebody who is without leave to remain is very likely to be in need of a house and income, it being illegal for you to work and you being excluded from mainstream welfare rights and all that. We said, let’s provide a house and income for those without. You do that and thank you. Now, maybe you could ask your friends to give a little so that we can give a decent Christmas present to everyone on the Dia de los Reyes:
My hope for next year is that we continue to grow. When we set out we thought that if we had a thousand donors each giving us £1 per month, we would be okay. We also thought that it would be easy to find 1000 people. We were wrong on both counts. We have somewhere around 500 donors and about £3000/month in income. If we reached the magic figure of 1000 donors, we probably wouldn’t be far off meeting the current demand. Let’s make 2022 the year it happens. If you have communication skills, do please get in touch. As you can see, ours are a bit clunky.
Just to wrap up the year, I thought that I would give you some reflections on my Christmas. Despite having quite a lot of anxiety about omicron, I decided to go ahead with the usual Jewish boy invites Muslim waifs and strays round for Christmas. (Covid anxieties got the better of my New Year’s Eve). Unlike our betters, I feel a bit guilty about having done Christmas. I think that we managed not to spread the disease.
Among the select few partaking of the delicious meal provided by some Coptic Christian friends was our newest resident. I felt extremely humbled to be in her presence and somewhat ridiculous that she has to turn to us for support. This is a woman who has taken on one of the most repressive military regimes in the world and suffered the consequences. “Brave” does not come close to encapsulating what she has done and continues to do. I am somebody who has spent a lot of time organising protests talking about state repression and the need for radical change. As a consequence, I felt ridiculous watching Roman Holiday with someone who has been front and centre in a revolution and then stood up to the counterrevolutionary forces after the inevitable military coup.
But as I reflect on the experience now, I realise that there is so much more that I have been missing over the years. As it happens, my current house guest is a lovely young man from the same country as our new resident. He comes from a very humble background. He never took on the state in that way. He had to leave because the same forces of repression were making life unbearable for him. At the age of 13, he took a boat to Italy. He then somehow made his way across Europe and to the UK. His journey took about a year. He has been let down by the care system and by the Home Office. He currently needs to make a fresh claim. Our newest resident has a wonderful lawyer. At 6 o’clock on Christmas Eve, we had a long discussion with the advocate about different options. Hopefully using some of our new connections, we will be able to put together a strong fresh claim and get my new little brother the protection that he needs.
My housemate is a man who, as a boy, challenged both the repressive mechanisms of the state of his birth and the oppressive, lethal border regime of the EU and European states. He rejected the position that was given him in life by an accident of birth. He said, no to being the butt of all jokes and taking whatever nonsense those more powerful than him chose to mete out. He went for it. I don’t know how I could have missed it. It took our new activist being in openmouthed awe of his achievements and horrified by what he had to go through for me to notice that which was right between my eyes.
It’s not like my little brother hasn’t already gently pointed this out to me. At the very end of November I went to Rennes to support a friend, Awa Gueye. She wants justice for the killing of her brother, Babacar Gueye, by the French police in 2015. En route we got stuck in Paris. The SNCF, in their infinite wisdom, decided that without 48 hours’ notice they could not organise a ramp to get me onto the train.
With a bit of nudging from my companion, I realised I could throw money at the problem and find a room for the night. Except I couldn’t. Fortunately I am part of a rather large transnational network of migrant solidarity activists. Friends of friends in Paris found a more or less accessible ground floor apartment. My travel companion’s partner put out a tweet and it made a little bit of a stir in a particular corner of Twitter. In fact it made enough of a stir to merit an article in the Independent.
On my return home, when I was recounting my misadventures to my friend, he seemed distinctly unimpressed. I was a bit taken aback. Had he not understood? Disabled man stuck in Paris because of evil French bureaucrats. What was he missing? He gently pointed out that he had been homeless in Paris at 13. He had been thrown off or denied access to rather a large number of French trains. In fact, the idea that you could hop across the channel because you wanted to go to a protest was somewhat of a stretch of the imagination.
It made me laugh (at myself). It also made me laugh at the article in the Independent. My adventures were no part of the travel news that day. If there’s anything interesting in my travel story, it’s friends of friends of friends finding me a room to support the struggle against police violence. But of course the real travel news is the hundreds of children, like my housemate, who are challenging a system that does not deem them worthy of having a future. The thousands of people who are finding ways to cross the Mediterranean, Europe and the channel because they know that it is their right to follow the wealth that has been looted from their countries. These are the people who are struggling for a better world. It is my privilege to know a few of them.
It is my New Year’s resolution to see what is in front of me. I know that you are already doing that. I truly believe that if we continue to provide the practical solidarity of somewhere to live and something to live off, there will be space for this mass movement to make itself visible in the mainstream. When that happens, when we all see the world like my housemate and my new activist friend, change will happen. It might not happen this year, but it will happen soon. I sincerely believe that we can build a world where there is space for all.
Happy New Year everyone,
Jacob and all of us at T4K.