Posts Tagged Refugee Action

Refugee World Cup, Sunday 24 June

Playing today: England (already covered: Colombia, Poland, Japan, Senegal, Panama)

england flag

England

Home.  The country where I was born and have lived most of my life.  I love so many things about this place – its hills and woodland and coastline, its musicians and writers and artists.  I love the NHS which has seen me and my family through so much.  I love its diversity – the culture formed through the influx of so many different peoples (invaders, migrants, refugees) and so much richer for it.  I’ll be rooting, of course, for its football team.

But there’s the rub.  My relationship with the England national team is tainted by so many disappointments, that can feel like betrayals.  And that mirrors how I feel about my homeland too.  When other nations treat refugees like dirt, I can feel righteous anger and solidarity and a sense of shared responsibility, but not quite the same degree of disappointment, not quite that same sense of betrayal, not quite shame.

I so want to not feel that shame.  But with Windrush and Brexit and the ‘hostile environment’, with the rhetoric of ‘citizens of nowhere’, I can’t avoid it.

But as always, there are so many people who not only care, but are working incredibly hard to challenge the misinformation, defend those who are being treated so shamefully, campaign for changes to the law.

Refugee_action_logo_with_white_background

One of those organisations is Refugee Action.  They support refugees, to put it simply.  They stand up for asylum seekers.  They’ve campaigned about how failed asylum seekers are left in destitution, about how people within the system are denied the opportunity to volunteer,  about the rule that if people wanted to make a fresh asylum claim, they would have to do so in person in Liverpool, no matter where they lived and with no help for those who couldn’t afford the journey.  And so much more.  And they work with individuals too, providing advice and support, and guidance through the labyrinth of the asylum system.

One of their current campaigns is to change the system.

We believe a future is possible where those forced to flee the homes they loved receive compassion, a fair decision, essential support and help to rebuild their lives.

Our new report exposes the asylum process as one of long delays, poor decisions and a total lack of information. It is a system that disempowers, dehumanises and damages people.

If you believe that everyone who comes to Britain in search of safety should be treated with fairness and compassion, that they should be given sufficient support to make sure they don’t face homelessness and hunger, email your MP to #StandUpForAsylum and call for change now.

The report sets out how things could change for the better.  How the asylum process could be fairer, and more compassionate.

An asylum system that might look something like this….

The Home Office gathers the right information from asylum applicants during interview, and uses this to make correct decisions the first time around.

The Home Office provides accurate and timely information to people seeking asylum.

The Government ensures a comprehensive and public review of current legal aid provision.

The Government achieves the targets it sets for the time taken to make decisions.

People seeking asylum, and their adult dependants, have the right to work after 6 months of having lodged an asylum claim or further submission, unconstrained by the shortage occupation list. They have access to education – including free ESOL classes – from application.

If people have to wait 12 months for a decision, they are granted Discretionary Leave to Remain.

The Home Office listens to people seeking asylum and acts upon their feedback.

The Home Office carries out regular audits of interview practice, which include consultations with people seeking asylum.

The information given during screening is not used in credibility assessments made further down the line, given that most people are unable to access any advice prior to screening interviews. 

People are given adequate notice of their substantive interviews in order to allow them to prepare this with their legal representative.

There are safeguards to ensure that poor interpreting does not have a negative impact on a person’s asylum claim,  including better training and quality control of interpreters. 

All interviews (screening and substantive) are recorded by default, and shared with the applicant and their legal representative.

The Home Office ensures that people receive information about their rights as soon as they apply for asylum, including the point of claim leaflet in a language that they understand.

People are told of the importance of accessing legal advice at the beginning of the process.

Asylum support decisions are made as quickly as possible in order to ensure that people are able to access a solicitor as early as possible.

Nobody is forced to wait more than six months for a decision on their initial
asylum claim.

Asylum support rates are at least 70% of mainstream benefits.

The report is a tough read.  The voices of the asylum-seekers themselves tell how they’ve faced scepticism, carelessness, callous indifference and bureaucratic incompetence.  And above all, how they’ve waited, waited in darkness.  But surely it doesn’t have to be like that?  Surely we’re better – kinder, fairer, more generous – than this?

Refugee Week is all about seeing those who seek asylum, wherever they come from and wherever they seek refuge, as people.  People who are fundamentally just like us.

Those of us who were born British citizens and whose right to that citizenship has never been questioned, whose families go back for generations here, might find it hard to imagine that we might find ourselves one day hastily cramming a few possessions into a rucksack and taking to the roads, handing over all our funds for the same of a precarious journey across the sea with no guarantee of a safe landing or a safe haven.  But it could so easily have been us, not so very long ago – if Britain had fallen to the Nazis, we could have been faced with those choices, like so many of our fellow Europeans.  It didn’t happen here, but it could have done, and we have no guarantees for the future.

Refugees over the centuries have contributed so much to our culture.   Who knows what the latest arrivals might offer us, if we give them the chance?

So, come on England!  Come on UK!

 

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Running for Refugees

Above:  A Runner, Another Runner, Me

Well,  I never said I’d run the Great Yorkshire fast.  In fact, I quite distinctly and explicitly said I’d run slowly, and I did.   Slightly more slowly than last year, in fact.   However hard I try, I find myself falling back towards the rear of the last wave of runners, alongside people who are in fact walking, and people in cumbersome fancy dress.   If I’m honest, I do mind that, a bit.

I don’t expect to cross the finish line to a ticker tape welcome, cheer leaders waving pom poms, reporters queuing up to interview  me about the experience.  But for the stragglers, those last few runners to stagger over the line, there’s a bit of a sense of anti-climax as we stumble on suddenly jelly like legs to grab the last few goodie bags, and head home, as if we’ve arrived at a party after the booze has run out, and the music’s been turned down low.

I like to think, however,  that there’s something a little bit heroic about my continued efforts in a field where I am so clearly not gifted.   I like to think that the kind and cheery people who still line the route to the bitter end, who call out ‘Well done Catherine, keep going, you’re doing fine’, recognise a certain bloody-minded determination, whether or not they recognise or value the cause for which I run.

In recent weeks there have been cheers and tears for a Somali born refugee who’s proud to say that this is his country and to wear the British flag around his shoulders as he kneels on the track to pray.  And as we marvel at the Paralympics we remember also that it was a refugee from Nazism, Ludwig Guttman, who saw that people with spinal cord injuries who had been written off, left to die slowly and in despair could be given new hope, purpose and the chance to achieve through therapy and sport.  (And Guttman wouldn’t have been here without the help of the Society for Protection of Science and Learning, now the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics.)   This doesn’t prove anything, of course, except that amongst those who make their way here are some exceptionally gifted individuals.  But to me it says that a country that is confident enough in itself to be open and generous, hospitable and inclusive, will be enriched by that.    If we were to take away from our culture the contribution of refugees, we’d lose more than that gold medal, and more even than the Paralympic Games.  We’d lose landmark buildings, high street names, publishing houses, works of art  – in every field of business, politics, science, arts, sports, we’d lose.  The societies that drive people out because of their beliefs, their race, their sexuality, they lose.  And if the displaced and the exiled are not given sanctuary, then those people, gifted or not, destined to be famous or not, will be lost too, along with those who never got the chance to escape.

So, actually, I do like to think that I can use not only something I am quite good at (writing, communication) but something that I’m really
rather rubbish at, both for the same purpose, both to support the same cause, because more and more I believe that it is one of the most
important things we can do, to support refugees.

Refugee Action

If you’d like to help, you can sponsor me here: http://www.justgiving.com/Catherine-Annabel0

Find out more about the work of Refugee Action here:

http://www.refugee-action.org.uk/ourwork/default.aspx

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Why I run, why I run very slowly – and why I run for Refugee Action

Those who’ve known me longest are the most surprised that I run – I spent most of my life strenuously avoiding unnecessary physical activity.  However, to my own surprise, I enjoy it.  It helps that where I live in Sheffield I can run for a few minutes from my home and find myself looking out over the lovely Rivelin valley, which lifts the spirits, even on a drizzly day.  On a sunny day, it makes me want to burst into song  (I don’t, as I’m usually too out of breath, and I don’t want to frighten the horses/dog walkers/other runners who are out there too).  On the flip side, you can’t run anywhere in Sheffield without having to deal with hills …

The Great Yorkshire Run is a great experience – there’s the full spectrum of runners, from the elite group (who were back across the finish line almost before my ‘wave’ set off) to unlikely runners like me.   I’m slow – though I get a tiny bit faster each time – which is fine, it’s a run and not a race, and I’m a middle-aged, traditionally built (thank you Alexander McCall Smith) woman, a pit pony rather than a gazelle.  But I keep going – once I start running I don’t stop, till I cross the finish line.

Last year I shaved 3 minutes of my previous year’s time (which itself was 10 minutes faster than I’d ever achieved in training).  When I’d slogged up the final cruelly steep hill a sudden spell of dizziness and breathlessness led to an ignominious journey on a golf cart to the medical tent.   This year, I’ve had back problems which stopped me training for a few weeks.  Despite that,  I’ll be doing the Great Yorkshire again this year, wearing the Refugee Action t-shirt.

Anyone who read my Refugee Week‘s worth of blogs about refugees will not be surprised at my choice of charity.  It’s really important to me how my country treats people who arrive here seeking sanctuary from persecution, violence and war.   My parents offered hospitality to Hungarian refugees after the uprising in 1956. Ten years later we found ourselves in northern Nigeria during the violence that preceded the civil war, when Igbo people were killed in their homes, on the streets, on the university campuses and in hospital wards.   Even those trying to escape from Nazi Europe often found their accounts of persecution doubted, and were unwelcome where they sought refuge.  You only have to read the reporting in many newspapers of any refugee issues to see how many half-truths and complete falsehoods are trotted out to bolster the view that we should send them all back (or at least send them somewhere else).  I know how much Refugee Action does to support these people, and to counter prejudice and misinformation, and I’m proud to be raising funds for this work.

So, if you feel as I do about the importance of this work, please sponsor me here:

http://www.justgiving.com/Catherine-Annabel0

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