The Unguarded Heart – T4K update, November 2022

Hello Everybody,

A very happy November to you all, if such a thing as possible. Some people, and at least one romantic poet, claim to like autumn. I am suspicious. I will stop rambling. I owe you an apology for not producing these newsletters. More on that later. Meanwhile, we have two important bits of information: an upcoming event and Christmas (e-)cards.

The Unguarded Heart

On 12 November, we have a wonderful evening of music, poetry, performance and food at Exeter Street Hall. It is called “The Unguarded Heart”. It has been a while since we have done an in person event and it will be, I hope, a chance to meet up with old friends and make new ones. I love the title (it wasn’t mine). It says it all. As Gillian Rose says in Love’s Work, it is only when you’re vulnerable that you can love. In fact, perhaps she thinks that to love is to make yourself vulnerable. You have to be open, you have to be visible. As she puts it, you have to be naked before the other. We will keep clothes on at Exeter Street Hall, but, as with everything we do, we will strive to see you and be seen. It will be a fantastic evening.

Christmas E-Cards

Brighton Welcome Blanket - a patchwork blanket incorporating the verse: 
Hail guest, we ask not what thou art
If friend, we greet thee hand and heart
If stranger, such no longer be
If foe, our love shall conquer thee

The other thing that is exciting is that we are trialling new Christmas e-cards. The idea is that physical gifts are a bit passé. Most of us have mounds of stuff. Much more in the spirit of Christmas is to make room at the inn. Using the power of technology you can send your friend a beautiful e-card and treat them to support for a stranger. I am hoping that the cards constitute an NFT, because then they would be super valuable if you happen to know anybody who has crypto currency (and a time machine). I am not sure what an NFT is, so don’t go treating them like a futuristic investment. Treat them as what they are: a chance to tell your friends that you love them whilst simultaneously bringing joy to a stranger. Now that’s what I call Christmas 2022.

The War

I think the reason that I stopped writing these newsletters, although I can’t be sure, is the war in Ukraine. More specifically, I think it was the response to the war in Ukraine. As always, the response from the general public was heart-warming in the extreme. Just as the collapse of the US backed regime in Afghanistan had done, Putin’s invasion caused a uptick in practical solidarity. Room for Refugees found many more people willing to come forward as hosts for refugees from anywhere. We received an increased number of donations and offers of support.

The thing that got me down, apart from the fact of yet another war, was the response from the powers that be here and in Europe. We had a very ugly spectacle of the vice president of the EU commission, Margaritis Schinas, declaring that Europe would always remain a haven for refugees, whilst member states at the EU’s borders kept up the good fight to maintain Fortress Europe.

At least the commission could congratulate themselves on not having put up unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles to Ukrainians trying to reach a place of safety. It is difficult to keep track of who was doing what when (probably why most of us can name more dinosaurs than we can cabinet ministers), but I think that Priti Patel was still Home Secretary when the UK decided that you would need a sponsor and entry clearance before you would be allowed into the UK. So, despite the goodwill, (and my utmost respect to those you who got involved in homes for Ukraine scheme), the UK has only managed to take in a tiny number of Ukrainian refugees.

It was not just the government’s response to the crisis that depressed me. It was also the response from organisations working in the sector. The major criticism of the scheme coming from refugee NGOs and charities seemed to be that hosts would not be properly vetted. Please remember that this is very much a personal and not a corporate view, but the issue was not too little regulation. There was too much regulation. There was also the second issue that the scheme was limited to Ukrainian refugees. Incidentally, if you’re still waiting for a Ukrainian family but are not fussed about the nationality, there is a whole hotel full of refugee families from all over the world. Most of them arrived before Putin sent troops into Ukraine. Do get in touch.

Unguard Your Heart

Why do I say there is too much regulation? Because when people flee a war zone, or indeed persecution in general, they do not do so in orderly fashion. If you are serious about making refugees welcome, you have to accept that you cannot have watertight control of the process. You have to accept that it is going to be messy. The only way to deal with that mess is through the clunkiness, the beauty and, yes, the danger of spontaneous, self organised support. Everything else is just an illusion anyway. You see it occasionally in the news, but the homes for Ukraine scheme has only kicked the problem down the road. As support from the scheme ends, people are struggling to find accommodation for themselves and community groups, like ours, are being asked to pick up the pieces.

What governments (and NGOs) need to accept is that the movement of people will be messy. The response to that is to give people freedom and power. You give people freedom to move and you give people the freedom to respond accordingly. Freedom to move requires more than the freedom to reach a given destination. It requires letting everybody who is physically here, take part in society. In a capitalist system, that requires giving people the freedom to work. The 100,000 or so asylum seekers stuck in limbo may be physically here, but they are not yet part of the community. The freedom to respond accordingly requires giving people the chance to organise themselves to make a place for the new arrivals. Sure, the government has a role in that, but it’s freeing up the resources to let the community sort itself out. This is what happened in Germany in the long summer of migration. It is how every large group of refugees eventually becomes absorbed into the host country. It’s what could happen here if only the powers that be were prepared to risk it.

There is another opportunity now. The appalling situation at Marston is a direct result of the catastrophic attempt to restrict migration and prevent community solidarity. The Home Office, through its own incompetence, has run out of asylum accommodation. It has already resorted to using hotels to hold people. Historically, hotels have been used in an emergency to supplement initial accommodation. They have been used to provide temporary shelter whilst the Home Office finds “accommodation appearing to the Secretary of State to be adequate for the needs of the supported person and his dependants (if any)”. Hotels are not adequate accommodation for single people, let alone families with small children. Nevertheless here in Brighton we have adults and small children who have been stuck in a hotel for over a year. The Home Office just opened a second hotel down here. We have helped a few individuals challenge this situation, but it’s piecemeal and there aren’t enough ‘activist lawyers’ to hold the Home Secretary to account.

The solution is simple. We don’t need processing centres in France. We don’t need more staff in the Home Office. We don’t need to give more money to outsourced accommodation providers. All we need to do is let people who have claimed asylum work and claim benefits. If the Home Secretary is right and it is costing the government £150 per person per day to hold you in a hotel, there are big savings to be made. If you are a single person over 35 and not working and claiming universal credit in Brighton and Hove, you get about £35/day (£334.91/month jobseekers component and £184.11/week for housing). The government could save itself over £100 per person per day. It would also give asylum seekers some dignity.

The problem is that this laissez-faire approach is precisely what the Home Secretary is frightened of. She would rather children sleep on the floor with strangers, that let the community support them. Here is her statement:
What I have refused to do is to prematurely release thousands of people into local communities without having anywhere for them to stay. That is not just the wrong thing to do. That would be the worst thing to do, for the local community, for the safety of those under our care and for the integrity of our borders.

I don’t want children, or anybody else, sleeping on the streets, but that is not the alternative. The alternative is that you give people a chance to make their own way in the world and you give the settled community the chance to support them. It’s not people having nowhere to stay that worries Braverman. If she was worried about that, she would arrange an evacuation of the refugees from Libya. It’s releasing thousands of people into the local community that keeps her up at night. She knows full well that those local communities would organise to absorb the new arrivals. It is what has always happened. She also knows that those self-same local communities would organise to prevent her deporting you, if she decides that she does not want you here. In the end what she is terrified of is the government losing control of the border and by extension how things are organised in the UK.

What you do through T4K is make homes for people who wish to re-make their life in Brighton and Hove. In an ideal world, there would be much less need for housing to make that a reality. Instead, our little community would support you to reorientate yourself, whilst you found your own home. It is not an ideal world, but you should be proud of what you in fact do. We do work together to make room for the stranger and if we keep working together and growing, we will live to see a world where we are able to make space for all.

Winter well. Love,

Jacob and all of us at T4K