I’m delighted that so many people came to the AGM on Monday this week. Of course, it was a shame not to meet again in person, but we heard from three outstanding speakers and I want to highlight their observations in brief.
And I want to bring you right up-to-date about what we’re doing to help Afghan arrivals in Oxfordshire… ‘Breaking news’ if you will, because things are happening at a dramatic pace!
Dr Peter Walsh from the Migration Observatory here in Oxford gave a brief critique of the upcoming Nationality and Borders Bill, which has already passed first and second readings in the House of Commons, but will be subject to critical analysis at the next stage in the Autumn, and certainly in The House of Lords. His critique was crystal clear – there are numerous provisions that fly in the face of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and are likely to be subject to legal challenge. Making it a criminal offence to help someone fearing for their live who arrives through an unauthorised route into the UK would almost certainly criminalise rescue teams, even the RNLI who are committed to saving lives at sea. This part of the Bill may well change – watch this space! But the main thrust of the Bill to establish 2 categories of refugees and asylum seekers: those who arrive via unauthorised routes (e.g. boats or lorries across the channel) vs the minority who come through official Resettlement schemes issued by the Home Office, seems to be fixed in the Government’s mind.
Nuha Abdo, the founder of the active Syrian Sisters supporting women arriving from Syria and other Middle East countries across Oxfordshire then shared her story and spoke giving her own observations on the effect of the Bill. We listened to her story with rapt attention; one can truly say “you could have heard a pin drop”. Her husband and her whole family had made a perilous journey across Europe from Syria – she would have would been deemed to be an ‘illegal’ asylum seeker under the terms of the new Bill. Nuha now works with us at Asylum Welcome coordinating our Refugee Community Organisations Project.
Finally, we heard a motivating and inspiring contribution from Ben Jackson, Director of the Asylum Reform Initiative, an alliance of over 350 organisations supporting refugees across the UK. Ben acknowledged that the main task will be to pick various clauses in the new Bill which are most contentious and may be amended after parliamentary scrutiny. “Let’s pick our battles” was the approach – but he gave everyone the motivation to keep up our campaigning, letter writing and even public demonstrations (being discussed for October – December). No MP should think this Bill is a vote winner – and we will do everything we can to remove its most pernicious effects.
I should add that we then conduced some formal business in the last part of the AGM, adopting our new constitution, welcoming 2 new Trustees, Lucy Keating and David Levy, and approving our Report and Accounts for 2020/2021.
You’ll see I’ve attached a few charts that we had hoped to show at the start of the AGM – unfortunately we had a technical problem on the night, but please do take a look at some of the real highlights of our recent work.
Afghan crisis response update
Asylum Welcome is working with councils and other public bodies to support over a hundred and fifty recent Afghan arrivals during what could be an extended stay in transition hotels while they await long term housing. This could be anywhere in the U.K. and time frames are not yet clear.
The recent evacuees, who range from lone individuals through to large families, have all been through the horrors of the last few months in their home country. They mix a genuine relief at being here, with ongoing fear for those left behind and concern about what their own future looks like.
The most important thing we are doing first is making them feel welcome, supported and able to look forward with optimism. We have mobilised a large team of staff and volunteers, helping with induction, translation and activities. Practical help with accessing health care, education, English language and activity goes alongside making sure they have the basics they need to live here.
People have been amazingly generous and we have all the clothes and general goods we need. We do need speakers of Pashtu and Dari to offer their time to support the guests and will gradually be building links with local organisations and faith groups to accompany families and those with extra needs. We will also be appealing for specific goods and services as they are needed.
At present what we need most is funds to allow us to offer transport to guests where needed, cover extra staffing, and help ensure that all families have got some access to phones and internet. Donations of tablets, laptops and phones to Asylum Welcome’s Laptop Project are very welcome.
We have also been receiving many generous offers from supporters offering a room or a house to host Afghan families. The council have asked that any landlords with spare accommodation in Oxfordshire contact this address as they are trying to locate housing for those in hotels firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read the Council’s pledge to support Afghan refugees here.
Thank you to everyone for your continued support – through the most challenging times last year, right through to the present time as we work our hardest to support these recent Afghan arrivals. We have launched a direct appeal for extra help at this time – if you are able to donate here, I can assure you that your funds will help provide much needed assistance at this most critical time.
Thank you so much for all that you and the community are doing to support these individuals and families and the many other refugees and asylum seekers in Oxfordshire.
With sincere good wishes,