Help wanted

I hope that you all managed to have a peaceful and enjoyable time over Christmas and the New Year, so that you are able to face 2018 with joy and enthusiasm. T4K, thanks to your amazing support, is in a good place. It is also in a place of transition. There is about £1800 a month coming into the account. That comes from about 380 donors. There are also over 500 supporters of the project.

The reason that we are in a good place is that we are in place of transition. You are now housing, 3 families and 3 single men across 5 homes. There are also numerous others receiving advice and support as they try to navigate the shifting shallows of the UK immigration system. Some of those people are in need of housing. The original vision was to find housing for just 2 people who were in dire need two and a half years ago. It is an amazing journey.

We need to expand the organisation. We are creating and refining new working processes to deal with what is a huge caseload for a small charity. We also need more volunteers and more affordable accommodation.

To take those in reverse order, do you have, or do you know of anybody, who has rooms or houses that can be let at, or below, the housing benefit rate? Do you know of anybody who has a spare room that they would be happy for someone trapped in immigration limbo to use for free? If so, please do be in touch.

There is an awful lot to be done and we are all volunteers. As the project has expanded bits and pieces fall between the cracks. We have come up with a long list of tasks that we think should not take more than a few hours a month (on average), but that need some people to commit to so that those cracks are beautifully cemented. You can find the list here. They cover all areas from admin through publicity and fundraising to face-to-face support with individuals. If you are lucky enough to have a bit of spare time, please have a read and get in touch.

I am very aware that people have offered to help out in the past and have not always had their offer of support taken up. I’m very sorry about that. It should not happen this time. As you can see from the list, each activity has a named lead to make sure that the expansion goes smoothly. In addition to all of that, we always need more money. So if anybody wants to arrange a jumble sale, a party, cake bake or sponsored immersion in baked beans and brussel sprouts, go right ahead (other ideas are welcomed too).

Before I get onto the story, I want to share the details of our upcoming event. We are having a small fundraiser to celebrate love at the Rosehill, on 14 February. It’s called “Refugee Valentine”. You can find details about the event here. There will be shared music and shared food and a whole lot of love. Hopefully see you there.

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Now, If anyone is still reading, the long awaited good news. Abdul (not his real name) finally received his Biometric Residence Permit. He had his appeal allowed by the First Tier Tribunal at the end of August and the Home Office decided not to appeal. This was a good move by Amber Rudd as she did not have a leg to stand on. It is an extraordinary relief and, as I am about to explain, there is no way that Abdul could have made it without you. Thank you so much.

Despite the good news, my overwhelming emotion is anger. Abdul arrived in this country seven years ago, as a teenager. He had, as it turned out, a cut and dried case for asylum simply based on his ethnic origins. He also had an extremely strong claim to asylum because of his political activities. What Abdul didn’t have is knowledge that he was literally in a legal fight for his life (that is literally a one in a million literal use of the word “literally”). He claimed asylum without any legal representation. He had no idea that he would have to provide overwhelming evidence of his trauma, and so naturally glossed over his more painful experiences. He had no idea that he could claim asylum as a member of a persecuted minority and so did not put much effort into explaining what, to a complete outsider, is a complex ethnic identity.

Things weren’t helped by having an interpreter who spoke a completely different dialect from Abdul and who, either from incompetence or shame, glossed over key features of Abdul’s story. The Home Office, whose default position is that you are lying, claimed that Abdul not only wasn’t from a persecuted minority, but wasn’t even from the country in question. It thus stood to reason that he couldn’t possibly have had trouble with the authorities.

What followed was the usual and interminable saga of finding overworked legal aid providers, appeals and fresh submissions, whilst all the while trying to keep body and soul together as he was shuttled between substandard asylum seeker accommodation. Desperate, Abdul discovered that he could apply for a right to work, was granted it and excitedly moved to Brighton. What he hadn’t been told was that entitlement was in fact in a few very specialised professions, such as brain surgery. Abdul was, unsurprisingly, woefully under qualified for any work that he was allowed to do. In addition, having voluntarily given up the pittance he was receiving from the Home Office, Abdul was absolutely destitute. He ended up homeless.

Fortunately, Voices in Exile and Doctors of the World were able to support him. They asked us to find him somewhere to stay and we were able to house him; first with an incredibly generous host family and then in a home your support makes possible. He was in a position to pursue an appeal.

It was particularly fortunate that you were supporting him as, in the very last leg, it transpired that he could claim asylum based on his ethnicity but his solicitors dropped all of their legal aid clients. Legal Aid is just too underfunded to be worthwhile for commercial firms. His wonderful barrister, Ubah Dirie, agreed to take on the case pro bono, if Abdul could gather the additional evidence he needed. We needed a solicitor to take witness statements and formally instruct Ubah. His original advocate agreed to do that work pro bono (I am still grateful). Abdul also needed an expert witness to refute the absurd claim that Abdul was lying about his identity. Following Ubah’s lead we approached the star cheese. It took the cheese about 5 minutes to establish what is obvious to anyone who meets Abdul, namely that, although, by his own estimation, he is no angel, he is extremely truthful. The expert was so outraged by the Home Office’s behaviour that he took on the case for free and even put back a hospital appointment to show up in court.

The stability and money that you provided meant that Abdul could gather witnesses, pay transport costs and undertake all the other activities needed to win his case. It should never have come to this. Abdul comes from a country with regime so violent that simply by being born he faced serious risks. He should have been welcomed and supported to start life again here. Instead, because he didn’t know how to twist himself through elaborate and tiny loops, a tortuous logic was used to ‘prove’ that he was a liar. How has it come to this?

As an addendum, I was speaking to Abdul last night. He takes a different view. He says, “7 years is too much, but, let’s be honest, Jac, when I think about my case, it’s a blessing. Let’s be honest, I wasn’t invited here. I came here illegally. They didn’t have to give me it [Leave to Remain]”. Make of that what you will.

Claude Monet - Arrival of the Normandy Train, Gare Saint-Lazare - Google Art Project