Thursday, 16 October 2008

Give them shelter

This is from a recent article by Harrient Grant and Rachel Stevens in this week's New Statesman. You can read the full article here, or watch their documentary on More4 News at 8pm on Friday 17 October:

"In every major city, Christians of all denominations - Anglicans, Catholics, Methodists and Quakers - are going to great lengths to support asylum-seekers threatened with deportation.
When asylum-seekers come to the end of the application process and have exhausted all appeals, their benefits are stopped, they lose their accommodation and they are told to accept a free flight home or face being forcibly removed. But thousands stay, afraid or unwilling to return to their home countries.

Faced with overwhelming numbers of destitute asylum-seekers in their parishes, churches have responded by creating an informal support network that stretches across Britain.
The role of the church as a force for social justice is not one that gets much attention these days and it is often perceived as out of touch with issues that concern modern Britain. But, under the radar of the public eye, churches and Christian groups are becoming increasingly involved in subversive activities over asylum, one of the most controversial issues in politics.

Some church groups have bought up houses in which refused asylum-seekers may live rent-free after they have been evicted. For example, in Manchester, the Boaz Trust, a Christian charity for asylum-seekers, has eight houses, some donated by church members, which are specifically used as long-term accommodation for those the Home Office has refused leave to stay in Britain.
In other towns, disused presbyteries and vicarages are housing those the government says have no right to be here. Some churches are simply opening up at night, letting people sleep on the floor of their church hall.

In Sheffield, hundreds of destitute asylum-seekers go once a week to the Methodist Victoria Hall in the centre of town, where volunteers swap their supermarket vouchers for cash, and hand out bus tickets and bags of food to get the asylum-seekers through the week. Similar drop-ins are being established in churches in every major city in the country.

Notre Dame de France Church in London's Leicester Square is a vital source of support for many Africans who have been refused asylum but still do not want to return to trouble spots in countries such as Congo or Ethiopia. Only yards from the hordes of tourists and ticket touts, the church offers a comforting chat with a priest and a meal. Many who go there are homeless, sleeping rough or on friends' floors.

Drop-in centres and "safe" houses add up to a subversive network, helping families to stay in Britain against the wishes of the government. The church networks are raising considerable sums for this work, often via the collection plate, passed from pew to pew during services. In Liverpool, the Catholic diocese currently gives the local asylum group Asylum Link every penny it receives from collections during Lent - some £25,000 a year.

Around the country hundreds of thousands of pounds are being raised to support people the government says have no right to refugee status. Giving alms and shelter to the needy is a central tenet of almost all organised religions, but questions are being raised as to whether the churches should be taking such a strong line over what is essentially a political issue."

1 comment:

cath said...

The issue as laid out in this post is whether or not people applying for asylum have rights to work and/or support by the country in which they have sought assylum. Because they have asked for asylum themselves, rather than wait to become refugees first before entering the country, their options are more limited.

Countries cannot determine whether or not a person is a refugee. The UN makes that designation, and when a person has received a refugee number and is eligible to be resettled, s/he will have "refugee status" and will be legal immigrants with all the rights that other immigrants have.

The movement of asylees, refugees, and displaced persons in the world is of epidemic proportions. I do feel that people of faith have a role to play in helping those who are fearful of returning to their former residence because they may be killed or tortured, etc.

Sad to say, sometimes it is actually better to go to an intermediary country, live in a refugee camp, and get a refugee number to be resettled in a third country than to go straight to a second country and ask for asylum an live with less security than refugees have.

And this is why I think faith-based organizations and social service organizations can be of help with those people who are asylees rather than refugees.

Displaced people are another situation, as well.

And it's all so sad.

cath