Here are the voices of some of the volunteers, members and staff who have helped run and develop Asylum Welcome over the years.
They talk about what inspired them to get involved in Asylum Welcome and their views on the difficulties facing asylum seekers, refugees and detainees.
Disclaimer: This page does not necessarily represent Asylum Welcome's views, and is not intended as an expression of our mission, objective or policies.
Each of us can choose to do something positive
I work with refugees and people seeking sanctuary because I am very often horrified by the way that the system treats people who have been forced to leave their homes and their families in order to be safe and to try to live the life that each of us as human beings deserve.
I cannot begin to imagine some of the things that people have gone through in their countries that have forced them to leave, but each of us here in the UK can choose to do something positive in our lives that can show people we care.
I believe that where there is injustice we must fight it and that is why I do what I do.
Open eyes and hearts
Asylum Welcome brings together people from within the Oxford community with the common goal of making a real difference in the lives of refugees. I believe asylum seekers are one of the most misunderstood groups of people and I feel driven to help raise awareness and to help fight prejudice. My experience with Asylum Welcome has opened my eyes and heart.
I got involved because I think it is intolerable that anyone is made destitute as a matter of Government policy by denying people benefits at the same time as they are denied the right to work; that people can be held in detention without charge to suit the policies of the UK Borders Agency; and that people can be sent forcibly to countries that the UK Foreign Office and United Nations (UN) warn people against visiting.
There are thousands of people in the UK, paid staff and volunteers, who work hard to support people seeking sanctuary and to change Government policy. We need to build an effective coalition of such voices in order to get a humane, fair and efficient system for dealing with asylum applications.
Jan, Volunteer and Member
Asylum Welcome provides an essential lifeline
Asylum Welcome provides an essential lifeline for asylum seekers and refugees by offering advice and support. My own experience as working as a volunteer advisor at Asylum Welcome has shown me how much this group value our service where they can come to for advice on essential issues such as healthcare, education and accommodation; fundamental aspects of life, which other members of the population may take for granted. Many of the refugees and asylum seekers have difficulty with understanding the English language both written and spoken; Asylum Welcome provides services, which assist them in this way enhancing any support they require. I also value Asylum Welcome for the hope and assistance that they give to detainees. Asylum Welcome continues ongoing work for this population by campaigning, advocacy and promoting public awareness. Asylum Welcome is a charitable organisation, whose work for this vulnerable group is highly commendable.
Sense of achievement
Fundraising from trusts and foundations is very much a backroom job, it is not very glamorous, and it can be hard, frustrating work. You go through weeks and weeks getting one refusal letter after another. But then, when you open the letter that starts "I am pleased to inform you...", it makes it all worthwhile.
Of course, the big cheques are tremendously exciting but the handwritten notes at the bottom of the letter, "Keep up the good work" or "It sounds as though the Youth Programme has done really good work this year", are almost better than the cheque itself. I was able to feel that my work underpinned everything the organisation did. There haven't been many jobs in my life that have given me more of sense of achievement than that.
Jan, ex- Staff and Trustee, still a Volunteer and Member
Many brave people
I have come to know many brave people, some of whom have at last won leave to remain in this country, but many more of whom have not - mostly unjustly, and often arbitrarily and unaccountably. Of those who have been able to stay, I think of a Syrian doctor, now a specialist in the NHS; an Albanian journalist, the founder of the first Albanian-language newspaper in the UK; and Quinta, a young mother, who waited seven years to find out if she and her small daughters would be sent back to Cameroon, to face the threat of forced marriage and female circumcision from which she had managed to flee.
The ones I think of every day are the others. Quinta's husband, who broke down mentally and physically under the strain and disappeared; Behar, a gifted young artist, who was sent back to Albania, where his artistic career almost certainly ended; Pierre, Jean, Marc and Andre, all sent back to Cameroon - even though Marc is HIV positive, and even though Pierre helped them all, and is so able and energetic that we lost someone who could have founded a dozen newspapers, or contributed to our country in a hundred other ways.
Carole, ex-Trustee, still a Volunteer and Member
Extraordinary group of people
I still remember the first day I turned up at Asylum Welcome. It was just beside the Church Hall, the walls were bright yellow, there were lots of posters up on the wall, a ramshackle set of furnishings, nothing matched! Some clients were drinking coffee in the kitchen and a reception volunteer was saying goodbye to a client with a warm hug. I knew then that I had come home.
Years later wherever I go, I still talk about the extraordinary group of people who with such generosity, commitment and love have kept Asylum Welcome going all these years. I always knew myself to be privileged to be in such good company.
Mercedes, ex-Director, still a Member
Detainees ask us for material help - for warm clothes or money to make phone calls, for example - but more often they need help in dealing with the system that has put them there. The asylum law being as complex as it is, and the way it is applied so biased against them, they need our help in contacting lawyers, getting in touch with relatives, finding translators, applying for bail, or explaining their cases.
What most have in common is a sense of being helpless, between the persecution that drove them away from home and the incomprehensibility of the system in the UK.
Many have seen their families killed and had to leave home to save their own lives. And in detention they have no way of knowing what will happen next, how long they will be there, or what they are supposed to have done wrong.
Detention is also inhumane because of the conditions: detainees get shifted around regularly all over the country, usually with only a few hours warning. No one knows why. If the Home Office knows, they won't say. They also lose contact with anyone who can help, especially their lawyer. No one knows how long they will be detained, weeks, maybe months, maybe years. Some are moved around every week or so. Many have health problems as a result of torture. Those with mental health problems resulting from their ordeal are liable to get worse. They have nothing constructive to do.
The centres are called ‘Removal Centres' in order to reassure the public; in fact, many detainees cannot be removed, either because their own countries will not take them, or because it is too dangerous for them to be sent there. If the policy was to listen carefully and compassionately to what refugees have been through, and then let them live here until they can return safely, many millions of pounds of public money could be saved - on courts, lawyers, security guards, detention centres, prisons, and police time.
Privileged to be involved
On the day that the Asylum Welcome office opened, I arrived as the first volunteer. The office was equipped with some files, a telephone and a donated computer (which I had no idea how to use!). After some time in Reception I volunteered to be one of the Education team. With no office, we interviewed clients in the foyer of St Columba's Church.
The move to our present office gave us a space of our own and, in time, our own computer, which I can now use... at least to some extent. My colleague's illness left me 'holding the baby' and on an almost vertical learning curve. We are now a team of five and I could retire leaving the work to my very competent colleagues but I love meeting different people, seeing their achievements, rejoicing with them when they are given leave to remain, offering advice and support when they are downhearted.
Of course, there is sadness too when people we have come to regard as friends are deported or just disappear. However I meet and work with so many wonderful people that I feel privileged to be part of Asylum Welcome.
Jean Kaye, Volunteer
(Jean passed away in 2013 – we miss her)