First Occasional News of 2019
A bit late but there has been the Annual Report and coming in April gives us opportunity to remind you of our Annual Meeting on 29th April, All Saints 19:00. The speaker will be from the wonderful Refugees at Home charity and supper is included – Business – Talk – Supper. The Dean (Anthony Cane) and the Lord Mayor Select (David Fuller) will be among the guests.
The two Bishops of Portsmouth (Anglican and Roman Catholic) visited the dropin together on Thursday 4th April.
They saw what goes on, were introduced to everyone, and worked the room with great enthusiasm, greeting our clients.
Bishop Philip (the Catholic Bishop) told us that he says a prayer every time he passes All Saints.
Seventy of our clients visited Chichester in April on a “Fun Day Out” organised by the Quakers and supported by Stagecoach buses and the Cathedral.
The visitors came on Stagecoach 700 buses, courtesy of Stagecoach and were taken on a short guided tour through the Bishop’s Garden and the Cathedral Close to North Street and the Quaker Meeting House where they had lunch.
There was face painting and Easter egg hunts before an afternoon which included the options of a football match, play in the Priory Park play area or a visit to Chichester Cathedral. Some of the men took time out to go to the Mosque for Friday prayers
We are house hunting! Looking for a furnished house near to All Saints to use as the Friends Without Borders Hostel. If anyone knows a bit about property and would like to help please contact me.
From the beginning of March we started taking a group to the Charles Dickens Sports Hall (5 minutes walk from All Saints) after the Monday Dropin.
Support is a bit patchy – once 12, often 7 or 8, once only four when the footballers showed their pragmatism by playing an enthusiastic game of badminton. We’re ploughing on though, keeping to a regular time and day in the hope that support will build.
What we really need is a volunteer with some coaching experience – a sports student perhaps – a bit of coaching would take us to a new level.
The Emsworth Art Trail this year is in support of Friends Without Borders!
The launch party is on Friday 26th April at 18:00 and I will be speaking very briefly with one of our “old boys”, Majid Dhana, who’s reading one of his poems.
Do come if you can!
Very best wishes to you all,
Part of our work is the “education of the general public through lectures, presentations and discussions”.
Last year Coleen, Geoff, Michael, Sue and other volunteers helped with more than twelve events to share our work with the general public.
If you know of an organisation which would be interested in having a speaker or hosting an exhibition, or know of a public figure who would like to visit the drop-in please let us know.
We like to help – there is no charge though we would appreciate the chance to make an appeal!
A Good Year
Our twenty fifth year was a good one with a lot of volunteers and a lot of new initiatives. We now have a “hostel” (a caravan) for three homeless men. Stephen Morgan MP is holding monthly surgeries in the dropin for our clients and the new volunteers include a teacher so we have increased the English classes. A small group has been formed to work on a Community Allotment and a client who is a barber brings his clippers every couple of weeks to provide free haircuts. A lot of people are doing what they can to make the bad situation of refugees a bit better.
We’ve also had some generous support from people who can’t come to the Dropin. Two legacies have come in during the year and this has enabled us to raise the amount we give destitute asylum seekers from £15 to £20 a week. We help with other expenses too - such as when people making fresh claims have to travel to Liverpool to do so. This is a particularly mean requirement of the Home Office aimed at “failed” refugees who are not allowed to work, not housed, excluded from the Welfare State and not given any money at all. We give them a straight hundred pounds for Liverpool trips and suggest they sleep on the coach. If they book early they might even get a little change and be able to buy lunch when they get there.
It isn’t just legacies which have sustained us, the church has been particularly helpful – the Anglican Bishop nominated us for his Lent Appeal and one or two parishes have made noteworthy donations. Our biggest and most dependable income comes from our monthly donors.
Let them Work
During 2018 we affiliated with more than 80 charities, think tanks, faith groups, businesses and trade unions to launch the ‘Lift the Ban’ campaign calling on the Government to grant the right to work to people seeking asylum. The campaign makes the case that being allowed to work would support people’s integration into new communities, allow them dignity and improve their health and wellbeing. It features new statistics which reveal:
A perfectly reasonable Home Office requirement for asylum seekers is that they sign on at regular intervals. Asylum Seekers in Portsmouth used to have to sign on at the police station in Portsmouth but that has now been changed to Fareham, 11 miles away. They are occasionally arrested when they sign which makes the day very stressful. Hearing about this one of our supporters, the Vicar of Holy Trinity Fareham, takes herself down to the police station on signing days and hangs about outside, introducing herself and inviting signers to have a coffee nearby. All the signers and all the immigration officers are based in Portsmouth so signing in Fareham is inconvenient for everyone. It is also expensive – we pay bus fares for a number of clients, costing us around £100 a month.
Portsmouth Police Station is being rebuilt but apparently it hasn’t yet been decided if the new station will be suitable for signing. One would have thought it could have been included in the architect’s brief.
During 2018 we have said “goodbye” to Philip Hudson who was a splendid book-keeper for many years and Helen Burchett who started the “Children’s Corner” and made it a tremendous success. Many thanks to both of them.
Helen is stepping back but maintaining her links with the charity which is what I want to do myself - having reached 75 I hope to retire as Chairman but carry on doing some of the hands-on work. It is a good moment, Friends Without Borders is thriving, we have a lot of good new volunteers and some very faithful and generous supporters. It has been a great privilege to be Chairman of such a dynamic group for the last five years. And a great privilege to work with our amazingly cheerful clients.
A very happy Christmas to all our supporters.
The Drop-in had its traditional Children’s Party on 20th December, an entertainer was there for the children, a buffet lunch served and presents distributed. A happy day. We are now closed till 3rd January - our Christmas break being almost the only break we have.
I was invited to read the lesson in a Cathedral Carol Service this year – my billing being as Chairman, Friends Without Borders. I got the slot done the previous day (there are three Carol Services) by Penny Mordant MP. Other lessons were read by a variety of people including the Lord Mayor, the Vice Chancellor of the University, and the Commander of Portsmouth Naval Base.
It’s gratifying to have Friends Without Borders recognised as a Portsmouth institution.
If you happen to come across somebody thinking of donating anonymously please let them know that being on our supporters list does NOT mean that they’ll be receiving endless appeals. We made an appeal five years ago and only one (rather low key one) since.
Twenty five years!
Not bad for a small local charity. We started as Haslar Visitors Group, visiting immigration detainees in Haslar Prison. We took over the drop-in when another charity abruptly closed and ran it alone for some months till the Red Cross came to join us.
Haslar, renamed an “Immigration Removal Centre” closed in 2015 but by that time we had already changed our name to “Friends Without Borders”.
If anyone remembers the very early days I should be interested to hear from them
Recently, as regular readers know, they have been required to “sign on” eleven miles away at the police station in Fareham. Part of Mrs May’s “hostile environment” think cynical people - but the main police station in Portsmouth is being rebuilt, so perhaps not pure cynicism, though it is not yet clear if the new building will have facilities for signing on.
Meanwhile a team from Holy Trinity Fareham is meeting asylum seekers as they sign on there and offering them coffee. Well done Holy Trinity! The Vicar came to meet us at the drop-in recently.
A Headache for some asylum seekers is that they lose their claims and are told to leave the UK. They don’t have permission to work, rent, drive or hold a bank account. They aren’t given any cash or accommodation by the Government. But some are trying to make fresh claims and some are from countries to which they quite literally cannot go back as their own countries won’t accept them.
There are about twenty like this in Portsmouth. And on any one night four or five will be sleeping rough. We’ve been looking into how we might help them and have had some interesting advice from Southampton and Winchester Visitors Group. They were renting some rooms for destitute asylum seekers but were advised by a top lawyer that under the Right to Rent Act they could not rent rooms but could rent a complete housing unit for use as a “hostel”.
We’d like to find a “housing unit” ourselves, at least for January and February.
The B word
We wait, as do they, to see what the new rules will be.
Michael Woolley, Chairman
Michael Woolley, Chairman Friends Without Borders
Office - 023 9283 9222
Office address: All Saints Centre, Commercial Road, Portsmouth PO1 4BTto edit.
The MP for Portsmouth South, Stephen Morgan, has started running a monthly surgery for asylum seekers at our drop-in. This is great - two of his assistants come and give advice – valuable as they have access to the Home Office (a special telephone number) which we do not: there are things an MP can do which we cannot. As far as we know we are the only drop-in in the country offering an on-site MP’s surgery. We arranged the service and are sharing it with the Red Cross.
We have a number of clients in this category and have recently carried out a survey to find out how many and how they are sustaining themselves.
It was a small survey but indicates that about 20 are currently homeless - 15 “sofa surfing” and 5 living on the streets. A volunteer is currently preparing a report and proposals as to how we can help them – you will be hearing more!
Liverpool Trips and Signing-on
We have had a number of people recently who have had to go to Liverpool to hand over papers for a fresh asylum application.
We also have a number of clients who are required to “sign-on” at a local police station – until recently Portsmouth but now Fareham 9 miles away. Friends Without Borders pays for these journeys, the costs of getting to Liverpool vary but we’ve recently decided to give all travellers a straight £100 to include a little money for refreshment en route.
A Fareham trip costs £5 return on the bus. One trustee has drafted a letter of protest to his MP. We hope that others will send similar letters – it’s better if you rewrite in your own words – but political pressure really is needed.
Portsmouth to be a “City of Sanctuary”
One World Week
- A World without Borders – a talk and discussion at the Portsmouth Friends’ Meeting House on Tuesday 23rd from 19:00 till 21:00. This is in partnership with Journeys Festival.
- One World Week Celebration at the Discovery Centre, St John’s RC Cathedral on Wednesday 24th from 14:00 to 16:30. Activities, stalls on theme of change. Do think about what you might come and do! Cakes from around the world
Journeys Arts Festival
I do not propose leaving the charity or giving up all the work I do but I shall be 75 next birthday and feel it’s time for someone else to take the helm.
Michael Woolley, still Chairman
VIGIL AND REFLECTIONS
The “reflections” (short talks) were rather a success too and we shall be publishing some of them in due course. Many thanks to our volunteer Davey Butler who stood in at short notice when someone dropped out – thank you Davey.
We also pay transport to Fareham for all those who have to “sign on” at the Police Station there (the bus ticket is over £5). They used to sign on at Portsmouth Police Station in Winston Churchill Avenue but the venue was recently changed to Fareham for undisclosed reasons. There are no dispersed asylum seekers in Fareham and the Immigration Officers who supervise the signing are based in Portsmouth so the change in venue seems ill considered from both points of view.
We also pay for people to travel to Liverpool to make fresh claims. I always thought that asylum seekers were made to appear in person so they could be interviewed. I’ve now learnt that very few are interviewed – the requirement to present the papers in person is pure bureaucratic harassment. It costs us about £100 each time in fares as we are the ones who have to pay!
The result of all this spending is that our reserves are gently going down – no bad thing, people give us money to spend on the needy not to keep in the bank. However it’s a situation which has to be watched obviously, your Chairman isn’t worried but he is keeping an eye on things.
LORD LIEUTENANT VISIT
Lords Lieutenant are the Queen’s local representatives in the different counties and this one was very charming and interested.
Well done Bob – thank you!
AND THANK YOU TO THE Al MAHDI CENTRE, WESSEX JAMAAT
The food was collected and transported by Bob Thomas of St Columba back in harness after his walk. There’s enough to make up food bags for all our clients if the regular suppliers fail us for some reason.
AND THANK YOU TO THE MUSLIM BARBER
“Refugees At Home” is a small charity that arranges altruistic hosting, over a limited period, for destitute asylum-seekers. They write:
"We have hosted for over 80,000 individual person nights and currently host some 150 guests across the UK.
We have recently received a referral for a refused asylum seeker from Sudan who has found himself street homeless while he prepares to submit a fresh claim.
Unfortunately, all of the prospective hosts we have in the area have now been asked and we have run out of options to pursue. Do you have any links in the area or ideas for who we might approach?”
I have come across Refugee at Home a number of times and been impressed by their efficiency and understanding of the needs of hosts. If anyone is interested could they contact Rachel Davenport: email@example.com.
Very best wishes,
Chichester Cathedral Lady Chapel
MONDAY 18TH JUNE
from Matins 07:30 to Evensong 17:30
and including both services.
Largely silent prayer but with hourly “Reflections”
DO JOIN US FOR AS SHORT OR AS LONG A TIME AS YOU WISH
This is very good news for our clients, none of whom are allowed to work and many of whom are excluded from the Welfare State as the Windrush people have been.
A supporter offered to provide these once a week during the month for our clients. We have been very happy to agree to this and on Thursday nights a team of mainly Christian volunteers open All Saints where we hold the drop-in, Muslim prayers are said, and the meal is enjoyed by Muslims and Christians alike.
A nice bit of inter-faith community building.
I just rang him to see how the first day was going but just got a very tired sounding answerphone message. If he was tired at the start I hate to think how he’s going to be at the end!
COMPUTER PARAGON NEEDED
In our last Occasional News I wrote about the death of our wonderful computer man John Cozens.
I wonder if there is any volunteer who might be interested in the job: it would involve installing and servicing our equipment, liaising with Tech Trust about our Microsoft Licence, possibly doing a bit of programming with our database.
I’m afraid this isn’t a job for a well-meaning but inexperienced amateur, what we need is someone who can hit the ground running and - after an unfortunate experience some years ago - someone who is totally trustworthy.
The situation: Leave to Remain Asylum seekers may be given refugee status which lasts for five years. At the end of five years they must apply for “Indefinite leave” meaning permanent residence, but this application is free of charge.
Many others are given Discretionary Leave to Remain which is initially for 30 months and has to be renewed four times at a considerable cost until the applicant has been in the country for ten years, after which they can apply for settlement. This applies to every individual, including children. There seems to be little consistency over decisions on why some applicants are in one category and some in the other.
How much are the fees?
At the moment (June 2018), each individual must pay £1,533 per person, including a compulsory health surcharge. This may rise to £2033 if the government carries out its plan to double the health surcharge by the end of 2018.
The health surcharge must be paid on-line, which is extremely difficult for those without bank accounts. Until 2015 renewal was free, but charges were introduced in April 2015 and have continued to rise steeply every year. The charges are out of all proportion to the Home Office “processing” cost.
After applying for renewal every 30 months, at the end of ten years an application for Indefinite Leave to Remain costs (at today’s rate) £2,389 per person.
People should save up…
They do, but:
- it is difficult to get a well paid job if you only have a visa for 30 months;
- as the fees are per family member a family may have to find £8,000 or more every 30 months;
- the fees are increasing by between 10% and 30% a year so it’s difficult to keep up.
What about Fee Waivers?
There is no fee waiver for Indefinite Leave to Remain or citizenship.
Some people with Discretionary Leave can apply for a fee waiver, but the eligibility threshold is extremely high and if a request for a fee waiver is rejected, you have ten days to pay the fee before your application for extension is rejected; you then lose your status entirely and become undocumented. This means you become unable to work; you have no recourse to public funds (benefits) and the time you have already spent in the UK is not counted towards the ten years’ leave you need in order to apply for settlement.
Friends Without Borders is helping applicants with these fees, we paid £1,012 in May and have just received a request for£1,033 in June, this being the balance of a fee after the client has made a large contribution himself. Trustees are still deciding but it currently looks as if they will agree the June application.
Is there anything I can do?
Write to your MP – the current charges are arbitrary, excessive and grossly unfair, particularly on young families trying to set themselves up after the upset of leaving their own countries.
Very best wishes,
Friends Without Borders does not make public any personal information without getting the permission of those concerned. We do not sell client, supporter or volunteer lists.
To ensure that we are ready for GDPR our trustees have checked and approved our charity data policy and the full details of how we use volunteer and client information can be found here.
Last year in Portsmouth
- 236 people were advised by FWB (sometimes many times) – many more helped indirectly;
- £22,036 given in destitution funding by FWB (up from £16,000 the year before);
- £26,784 spent in total (including destitution) on running the drop-in by FWB;
- Journeys Arts Festival was financed with a grant of £9,800 from the Big Lottery obtained by Friends Without Borders;
- Children’s Corner was run by us;
- Access to Justice free legal advice service was run by us (one of only two free immigration legal advice services in the city).
Click here to read the full report