ANNUAL MEETING CLAP
We had our Annual Meeting on 29th April and presented the Annual Report for 2018 and the accounts without receiving a single question!
I had previously indicated that I wished to step down as Chairman but as the trustees hadn’t found a replacement I agreed to carry on for a while.
Coleen, the Deputy Chair spoke unscheduled, and gave a handsome tribute after which the whole room rose to its feet and gave me a standing ovation – the only time that has happened to me in my life. It’s a bit difficult to know what to do when being clapped so I clapped back – trying to indicate that Friends Without Borders is a group enterprise and any credit should be shared!
There are one or two jobs I would be particularly happy to hand over – first the football, now suspended till 2nd September. Happily a group called Spirit in Sport is coming in for two months then in order to provide coaching every other week – however someone will need to liaise with them, remind the players weekly and go along on the alternate weeks to organise a game when Spirit in Sport is not there.
The other responsibility I’d love to hand on, probably to one of our existing volunteers, is responsibility for managing the hostel. We did have a volunteer who took this on but she’s now dropped out for personal reasons - and we do have a volunteer who’s currently hostel-hunting – but he’s very reasonably made it plain that while he’s prepared to do that he doesn’t want to take on day-to-day management
SUCCESS STORY OF THE YEAR
The success story of the last few months has been the English classes very ably run by a Red Cross volunteer (an asylum seeker herself) who has now been joined by three FWB volunteers, two of whom with a background in education. The main English classes are on Thursday but we’d also like to expand the Monday classes if suitable volunteers can be found – we’ve already mentioned that at the Staff Meeting we have every month.
HATE CRIME OR NOT
At our last Staff Meeting we had a visit from Will Bergstroem, Police Community Cohesion Officer, and Freida M'Cormack, Portsmouth Counter Extremism Coordinator.
This impressively titled couple had come to tell us about a police initiative against hate crime, defined as perceived abuse on grounds of Race, Religion, Sexuality, Transgender Identity or Disability. They are anxious to gather data about this in order to identify its extent and any “hotspots”.
Reports may be made anonymously and out of police station via a website - our advisers now have the information on their laptops and can help anyone to make a report.
HAPPY NEWS FROM THE FARM
Happily we haven’t heard much about hate crime from our clients who are generally speaking thick skinned and down to earth. And they do receive much kindness – two weeks ago we had a visit from a farmer with some yurts to let who told us he’d be happy to have them used by asylum seekers free of charge in off-peak periods.
We don’t know what asylum seekers will think about farm holidays in the wild but have found a volunteer to manage the programme and are starting to advertise. We’ll keep you posted!
Very best wishes,
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.