August is here and hopefully all of you are able to find the time and the money to have a little holiday. It’s summer (despite the rain), so I sincerely hope you are all fortunate enough to have some time that is wholly yours. Now the good news. We are doing okay. Thanks to the wonderful ceilidh, a silent disco organised by some Sussex University students and other bits and pieces of fundraising, there is enough money to keep everybody housed until March. We are still about £300 a month short of having a regular income sufficient to meet our ongoing commitments, but hopefully there is time to catch up with ourselves. (Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Imagine not chasing your own tail).
Even more excitingly, one of the people you have been supporting received his status. To protect his anonymity I’m going to call him, Peter. Peter was referred to us by Voices in Exile because he needed some support with his Family Life appeal and, indeed, support with his family life. Although Peter is a refugee from Zimbabwe, the Home Office, in their infinite wisdom, decided that he did not need protection from Mugabe. He spent the usual years in immigration limbo, but being a really personable individual, he had managed to start a serious relationship with a British woman. They married and he received a limited leave to remain. By the time that leave expired, the relationship had broken down and a child had been born. He was homeless and desperate. Peter fought hard to maintain his relationship with his son. It is pretty difficult when you are camping, but, he managed it, until the powers that be moved him on and shuttled him through a series of homelessness charities. None of the charities were able to help because of his lack of status. He ended up in Brighton, where thanks to Voices and our destitution fund, we were able to get him some legal advice and pay for the transport to see his son. We are also able, thanks to Positive Action in Housing’s Room for Refugees scheme, to find him somewhere to live. With that stability and support, Peter was able to win his case. As he likes to put it, he is no longer trapped between the ink.
Hopefully, by next month, one of the three men we are housing will have won his asylum case. I can’t go into details just yet, but, I am pretty confident, that I will be able tell you the story in the next newsletter. It centres on an extraordinary refusal to believe even the most basic and obvious things this man said about himself. It meant another trip to an immigration tribunal at the backend of Heathrow airport. It looks like a generic office block, but inside, as well as x-ray machines and airport style security, there are corridors-cum-waiting rooms and small offices converted into courts by the presence of large quantities of wood. The judge sits on a raised dais, backed by the coat of arms. If you’re anything like me, you probably never had reason to pay attention to this archaic heraldry. However, if you sit as a spectator in the bizarre ritual which is an immigration tribunal, you might notice that the scroll reads, “Dieu et mon doit”, “God and my right”, and around the bit in the middle, which apparently is the motto of the Order of the Garter, you have, “honi soit qui mal y pense”, “shame be to him who thinks evil of it”.
As an expression of arbitrary power, it doesn’t get much better than that. It may as well say, “I’ll do what I like and you can shut your mouth”. It certainly feels that way when you come as an observer to these places. Small knots of anxious people whisper anxiously. If they are lucky enough they are in hushed conference with their barrister. If not, they wait nervously clutching their papers. The system is opaque, the setting anodyne and the petitioners powerless, but what happens in these places is, quite literally, a matter of life and death.
Our man was able to bring a whole gaggle of witnesses, again thanks to the destitution fund, and a number of his friend showed up just to support him. The hearing went about as well as anyone could have hoped. The scene afterwards, as we gathered in a car park located at the end of one of Heathrow’s runways, was both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Here was a group of no longer so young men, who had been through the asylum ordeal, hugging and congratulating their friend and fellow traveller. They had all left night shifts early so they could be in Feltham at 10 o’clock to support their friend. It was a moving display of solidarity and friendship. Against the backdrop of the state in all its bureaucratic hostility, I couldn’t help but feel sad and angry that the state had treated these men with suspicion and real meanness. They were clearly who they claimed to be; men who found themselves washed up on the shores by horrific violence and who now wanted a bit of peace and quiet to build some sort of life for themselves in a foreign country that they hoped would become home. With a tiny bit of luck, the seven year odyssey of the man you have been housing will be over by this time next month. It will take a very mean judge to insist that the Home Office is right and our man a fabricator. Maybe, just maybe he has made like the proverbial camel and squeezed through the eye of a needle.
I want to leave you with one more story that will hopefully give you a sense of what the project means to people. It concerns M, a 60 year old woman from West Africa, who was married to a British man. She lived with him in Sussex for 7 years, having come to the UK on a spousal visa. When the marriage became violent and abusive, with the support and encouragement of RISE, she courageously decided to leave him. They referred her to Thousand 4 1000 and we supported her move. Initially she was unable to claim housing benefit, due to her immigration status, and therefore her housing options were extremely limited. Thanks to your support, we were able to fund her stay in a hotel for a few nights and subsequently in a room in a house, while helping her with her application for “Indefinite leave to remain”. This was granted within a few weeks, thanks to the legal services of Voices in Exile. After a few weeks in a refuge in another county, she was finally rehoused in Council accommodation – but with no carpets or furniture. We were able to use the destitution fund to help her purchase enough basic items to help her, finally, to feel she has a home again.
This is the sort of difference that your £1 per month (or a little bit more) makes to the lives of individuals in Brighton. Thank you so much. Please do continue to support us, sign up for Gift Aid if you can, and persuade a couple of your friends to become involved as well. We would love to be able to put an end this whole nightmare, simply by being able to house everyone who has been made homeless because of their immigration status. Those sunny uplands are still a long way off, but the journey has begun. Thank you.