It seems we never learn. Once again we watch in helplessness as hundreds of thousands of Rohingya are forced to flee their homeland due to the severe and outrageous persecution they are facing. Persecution they have had to face for generations as stateless within their own land. Now intensified as ethnic cleansing becomes ever more violent. Out of such gaze, similar events continue to the Darfurian peoples in Sudan. And elsewhere violence is perpetrated against people because of their ethnicity, religion, sexuality, gender or age amongst other reasons. It doesn’t have to be violent, it can be the denial of rights as a human being to education and health and justice.
If you heard the German politician yesterday morning talking about forcing people to leave Germany because they should not be there due to their faith you may have felt, like me, a shudder of “and this is how it ramps up!”
And yet, and yet…. so many good people choose the other route. Acts of love and generosity are poured out. There are Bangladeshis welcoming their new arrivals and ensuring they have food and help. So often, whenever there are attempts to march in the name of hate, their voices are silenced by anti-racists.
I experienced that side again, as I have so often, by the warmth of the welcome of World Cafe here in Gloucester . On Saturday evening a group of people enjoyed each others company, ate very good food produced by some of our Syrian friends and raised money through purchasing works of art donated by generous artists. In one evening £1000 was raised towards the work to support women supported by GARAS.
This kind of generosity has been experienced by GARAS from individuals and groups across the County. People raise money and volunteer their time in so many different ways. The power of love is stronger than hate. It can be difficult to speak out and contradict unpleasant voices. But when we remember that actually we are not alone then it is easier to speak a word of compassion, to put a hand out to the stranger, to argue against prejudice and do it all while staying calm and focused.
Yes, I know I am posting this on day three, but it was a very late night last night!
The day, for GARAS, started with preparing for an Audit. This was requested by OISC, the Office of Immigration Services Commission, the body that allows us to practice at Level One in Asylum and in Immigration Law. It was 15 years since we had last been visited by them, so, despite regular inspections by other bodies, we weren’t really sure what the process would be. I am delighted to say it went very well.
During his visit I went over to see the lovely people at St James Church, Tredworth. This is sort of our parish church and have been firm and reliable supporters since we began. On World Refugee Day, it was a delight to talk together and to answer their questions.
The day ended at Gloucester Guildhall, at the Black Men on the Couch event. This event, supported by UKCP, which has been promoting talking therapy for a number of years now, took a different twist last night as both of the "clients" in the the chair were refugees. Their stories were so very different. The one story of the long and challenging existence of someone managing to thrive despite years and years in Dadaab Refugee Camp and the other, the short, shocking story of being accidentally caught up in the terrible violence as civil war broke out in Libya.
On World Refugee Day it was vital to hear again such experiences and remember how these have long, long impacts, even when life may return to "normality", the truth is it is never the same again.
I had a lovely start to the week visiting a primary school in the heart of Gloucestershire. We had a great morning thinking about the challenges of having to leave suddenly and what would you take. The children were remarkable, I had great answers to my questions. Although I am not quite sure we have anyone coming as asylum seekers from Mars quite yet! The answer to why would you need your passport, from a five year old? "So they know who you are!" So cool.
Back in the office and it’s the reality our clients face every time they go to sign. It is a requirement to sign with Immigration as stated on your IS96, for some it’s every fortnight, others once a month and for some lucky people, less frequently. But every time there is the fear that today maybe the day they pick you up. Then, what happens next? Where will you be taken to? How can you get a solicitor? Who will help?
Tomorrow includes talks and an Audit, so let’s see how that goes.
As Refugee Week approaches rapidly we are delighted that this year we will be involved in great event to be hosted at the Guildhall in Gloucester.
Black Men on the Couch is an event that raises awareness of the challenges of talking through issues, particularly for men. Men have, for so long, been expected to be strong and keep up the right image. This evening helps to show that men can talk!
IN the psychotherapists chair will be Rotimi Akinsete and the guests will be Alex Owumi, a professional basketball player and best selling author of Qaddafi’s Point Guard. and Mouli Hujale, a Somalian humanitarian journalist and advocate for refugees.
This promises to be a really interesting evening and all are welcome. It is a free (although donations to the work of GARAS will be very welcome!)
If you are interested tickets can be booked through: http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/black-men-on-the-couch-gloucester-tickets-34879337036
I hope to see some of you there.
A second Immigration concern is, we would also ask politicians to include a commitment to vulnerable young people across Europe and beyond, acknowledging that whether they are supported by local social services or are on Dublin iii agreements or Dubs Amendment the support be in place to ensure they are well looked after.
Just as Lord Dubs entered the UK on the Kindertransport scheme, ask your candidates to remember that every child matters, and to remember and offer hope and security to the most vulnerable who have lost so much, by ensuring safe passage for them to family and opportunities in the UK.
Three weeks to go.
The second main area of concern is in the topic of Immigration.We would hope that any incoming Government will maintain the pledge to bring in Syrians and other vulnerable Refugees caught in dreadful circumstances and that this be increased. In order to assist this to happen, measures need to be in place to encourage more landlords to assist in providing accommodation, for example to those on resettlement schemes.
Ask your parliamentary candidates to pledge to continue the Syrian Vulnerable People’s Vulnerable Scheme, to remember and assist other refugees around the world and to facilitate this to happen by ensuring they can access housing, which can be an obstacle to the scheme progressing.
COUNTDOWN: FOUR WEEKS TO GO UNTIL THE ELECTION…
The General Election is now 27 days away and here we are again thinking about the effect that policies can have on the work we do at GARAS and on the lives of our clients. It is a challenge to narrow this down to a manageable number for campaigning purposes. However, there are a few areas of concern that you may wish to ask your Parliamentary candidates about as the campaigns heat up, manifestos are completed and messages are conveyed to the population.
There are two main areas of concern that I would encourage us to contemplate, specifically Immigration around asylum seekers and access to education. I will be posting a different part to this each week in the lead up to the 8th June.
Firstly, I would like to raise a vital topic, which has far reaching consequences for those involved: Education. Over the past few years, we have found it increasingly difficult to assist young people into education from about 15 years old upwards. There are a number of reasons for this, including independent decision making due to schools having become Academies, and therefore being outside LEA (Local Education Authority) control and the influence of League Tables on schools in their consideration of taking a risk to accept a young person. From 16 upwards this becomes even harder where there are fewer 6th Forms and Colleges and where there is a reluctance to accept young people outside the normal term starts which can mean it is possible for nearly an entire year to pass before education is begun. This is so frustrating for a group of young people very keen to learn and to study and to contribute. And is not good when young people then have so much time on their hands.
Ask your parliamentary candidates to ensure that every child in Gloucestershire can access education, and to address schools and colleges which will not allow new arrivals to attend full time if at all. Where funding is a concern, ask them to ensure education receives reasonable monies for the betterment of children of today, our leaders of tomorrow.