L’Shana Tova, a very happy (Jewish) New Year to you all. It is now 5781 which will hopefully be a somewhat more joyous year than 5780. One thing that I like about Jewish festivals, other than the food, is that when you drink the ritual wine you say, “l’chaim”, “to life”. Many years ago my brother pointed out to me that there is something outrageously optimistic about the toast. It’s an expression of an absolute commitment to the value of existence. No matter how terrible the situation, no matter the pain and the suffering, to life, to life.
Now, as it happens, and it is a coincidence, we held our AGM this month. As well as it being a legal and constitutional requirement, it would also, for me at least, a wonderful opportunity to reflect on what together we have created and what a remarkable achievement T4K actually is. In no small part this reflection was helped by the beautiful annual report which Dani put together. You can find the report here. If you want a hard copy to give to your friends, let us know and we can put it in the post to you.
The headline figures were striking, even to me, a monthly income of around £2,300 a month from around 450 donors is, I think, quite astonishing. We haven’t yet reached our target of a 1000 donors, but there is still time. We have housed 16 adults and 4 children and helped 26 people through our innovative interest-free loan scheme. We were lucky to partner with the East Sussex Credit Union and receive money from NACCOM to assist people with the exorbitant costs of making immigration applications. It has meant that people have not lost their visa, they’ve not been separated from their children, they’ve been able to apply and receive settlement in the UK.
A Story Behind the Figures
Those are the headline figures but there are also stories behind those numbers, some which you can find in the annual report. I want to mention one that isn’t in this year’s report. It’s not there because the family in question have already moved on. I want to tell it, because it seems so indicative of the brutality of the hostile environment, but also it’s undramatic, everyday nature. A woman, not from the UK, had to flee domestic violence. She took her small children with her. Without a right to be in the UK the relevant local authority felt justified in insisting she return to her country of origin and refusing support. As she didn’t have a visa, she fell under the bland rubric of “no recourse to public funds”, a boring bureaucratic category. In practice, it meant that she could not access housing benefit or income support. But, because almost all housing projects, and particularly women’s refuges, fund the cost of their accommodation out of housing benefit, no one was able to support her. She was going to end up back with the abuser, on the streets with her children or destitute in her country of origin.
We alone were able to help precisely because the Thousand 4 1000 model is different. On the one hand, we are bolshie and antagonistic. We exist because we reject the whole logic of dividing people into deserving citizens and hostile foreigners. We have set our faces against the politics of division. But much more important than what we are against is what we are for. We are committed to kindness, to community and to individuals working together to support each other in the pursuit of freedom and happiness. Because we have faith in the community and because the community has amply kept that faith, we were able to provide a house and to provide the support this woman needed. We are not reliant on money from the state or other institutions, and so we didn’t have to tacitly reinforce their logic by rejecting someone who had “no recourse to public funds”. As a consequence, there is one more perfectly ordinary, which is to say kind and lovely, woman and three more perfectly ordinary, which is to say creative and delightful, little children taking part in the life of Brighton and Hove.
Saying Yes to Life
I started this newsletter with the standard comment of despair at how things have gone this year, and it has been a tough year. Death is hovering over us, social isolation is destructive, incomes are at risk or already gone. It has not been easy and is not going to get any easier anytime soon. In the field of migration, we have seen the EU legalise violent pushback at the borders and double down on their desire to keep people out or in limbo. The UK government refuses to even so much as let a few unaccompanied children be reunited with family members and has responded to increased public awareness of crossing from Calais by trying to railroad people out of the country. They’ve implemented a kind of de facto hotel detention for newly arrived asylum seekers and gone back to repurposing military camps as places to store asylum seekers.
I also think that this year has shown the tremendous possibility, and in actuality, of a completely different way of organising. The neighbourhood mutual aid organisations that sprung up to help each other through the lockdown is perhaps the most obvious example, but all over there are communities of people working together to help each other through these difficult times. The Moria fire has seen protests all across Europe calling for a different attitude to migration. Cities and citizens have pledged to welcome some of the people trapped in limbo. Detained Voices, SOAS Detainee Support Group and others, particularly Yemeni community, have mobilised to support people facing removal and to resist the railroad. They even managed to halt an entire flight to Spain. Kent Refugee Action Network and others have mobilised to support arrivals in Kent. Antifascists have set up Channel Rescue to pre-empt any attempt to bring the politics of the Mediterranean into the channel.
Most heartening to me is that the response of the people of Pembrokeshire and the tiny town of Penally to plans to use a former military base to house asylum seekers has been to say “refugees welcome but racists not”. They are quite rightly opposed to such callous treatment of people, but it’s clear that it’s out of solidarity and respect for individuals. However dark the news, however vocal and powerful those who support exclusion are, our ability as little people to work together out of compassion for one another, will see us through. It might not feel like it at times, but are world is still animated by love and kindness and will ensure because it is animated by love and kindness. So, I truly think that, even as winter approaches, we have every reason to say, ‘l’chaim’, ‘to life’.
Jacob and all of us at T4K