Twenty Five Years
Wow! It’s anniversary time – 25 years since our charity was first formed as Haslar Visitors Group to visit immigration detainees in Haslar prison.
Now the prison’s closed but we’ve got a new job (which the Red Cross has come to join) running a drop-in for the 200 asylum seekers dispersed to Portsmouth while their cases are being sorted out.
Happy Christmas and Happy New Year
Christmas is an important time for charity fundraising and we have received a number of generous donations, including one from the Cosham Community Choir, a big one from the Diocese, and a few from private individuals, some of whom give anonymously. The sad thing about anonymous gifts is that we don’t get the chance to say “thank you” or to put donors on our Occasional News list.
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!
The appeal five years ago was for our 20th anniversary and in 2019 we shall reach our 25th!
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
The work goes on. Portsmouth still has 200 asylum seekers dispersed to it, none of whom are allowed to work.
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
Our Access for Justice project is gearing up for Brexit. A complicated situation when you have European nationals of African heritage working in the UK.
We wait, as do they, to see what the new rules will be.
Happy New Year!
Michael Woolley, Chairman
Michael Woolley, Chairman Friends Without Borders
Office - 023 9283 9222
Office address: All Saints Centre, Commercial Road, Portsmouth PO1 4BTto edit.
A small group of volunteers are taking some of our clients to a Community Allotment where they have already painted the shed and planted out some carrots and onions. It is very healthy for people living in dire poverty to have something useful to do. They are, of course, not allowed to work.
Part of Mrs May’s “hostile environment” is to deprive asylum seekers of a place to live or the right to rent at a certain stage in the application process.
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
Portsmouth to be a “City of Sanctuary”
A group have been working on this for a while and an official launch by the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire is planned for Wednesday 19th June at All Saints. More information in due course.
One World Week
OWW is from 21st to 28th October with many local churches taking part with a variety of events. We were particularly interested in:
Journeys Arts Festival
This is from 19th - 28th October and has a good website with full programme details.
I have been the Chairman for some years now but have told trustees that I propose to retire at the next AGM in Spring 2019.
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.
With very best wishes,
Michael Woolley, still Chairman
VIGIL AND REFLECTIONS
Thank you to everyone who supported Roger Pask and me during our Vigil for Refugees in Chichester Cathedral. The day was a success, gaining as much, if not a little more, support than two years ago when we last had it there.
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.
As reported last time we’ve been able to raise our standard destitution payment from fifteen to twenty pounds a week.
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
The Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire dropped in to our Drop-in recently.
Lords Lieutenant are the Queen’s local representatives in the different counties and this one was very charming and interested.
Our supporter Bob Thomas successfully completed his walk from St Columba’s in Fareham to St Columba’s in Pont Street, just behind Harrods. We’re not sure exactly what he raised but it was over £750, perhaps £1,000.
Well done Bob – thank you!
AND THANK YOU TO THE Al MAHDI CENTRE, WESSEX JAMAAT
The Mosque presented us with a splendid food collection post-Ramadan. Thank you to everyone who contributed and to Sheikh Fazle Abbas for organising it all.
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
A gentleman who appeared one day with all his kit and spent a morning cutting our clients’ hair. Very unfussy and practical help: thank you!
“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,
REFUGEE WEEK VIGIL
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
Our fund raising has been going well recently and we have received a small legacy so we’ve been able to raise our standard destitution payment from £15 to £20 a week. All our clients are offered a food bank voucher when we have them as well.
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.
“Iftar” is the fast-breaking meal which Muslims eat after evening prayers during the month of Ramadan.
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.
Our supporter Bob Thomas is as I write walking the first leg of his walk from St Columba’s in Fareham to St Columba’s in London. He is collecting for Friends Without Borders and you may sponsor him on his JustGiving page.
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
This briefing draws on a detailed document by the CORAM Children’s Legal Centre We are grateful to CORAM for all their work on this.
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:
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,