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.