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The latest news from Asylum Welcome.

We also contribute to the debates on asylum and detention in the media.

Oxford has a heart - and it is orange

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Building on our learning and success in 2021.
 
Despite all the challenges that Covid threw at Asylum Welcome and our clients in 2020, we were actually able to support more clients with more services between April and March than in the year before. The profile of our work certainly changed to help refugees and migrants meet their immediate needs. There were fewer new refugees arriving in the U.K. and many Home Office and other services were closed or delayed for much of the year, but we were able to give more people practical help and emergency assistance.





Mark Goldring
AW Director
I’m particularly pleased that through the pandemic we were actually helping more people build for the future with improved education and employment services than we had pre-lockdown. And just a few weeks ago, the first Saturday group language classes, run in collaboration with Ruskin College, started in our office. These were so oversubscribed that we had to add extra classes the following week.

Building on our growth and learning over the coming year
We were wonderfully supported by the generosity of the Oxfordshire public and many institutions, trusts, schools, churches. Now, as we plan for a post-Covid world, our aim – indeed our commitment, as endorsed in April by our board – is to build on our recent growth and learning over the coming year. In such a hostile political environment, it is important that we strengthen our work to help individual clients fight for their rights and get legal status. We expect to extend this work, while continuing to offer practical assistance to those struggling while their cases are heard.
 
We are deeply concerned about plans announced by the Home Office to create even more of a two-tier asylum system, treating those people who arrive on their own and not through an official programme as illegal. We are working hard to raise concerns, helping refugees raise their voices and linking with other organisations across the country to resist these plans. We describe this in more detail below.
 
As well as growing our own teaching work, we plan to do more to take refugee voices into schools. We are also hearing from refugee families that they and their children need more support to understand, adjust to and thrive in our education system. We are already getting more laptops out to those who most need connectivity and are now planning to respond to this need more extensively, helped by research carried out by one of our education volunteers. For those preparing or ready to work, our improving links with local employers, including universities, will offer more opportunities.
 
The first six months of our new programme supporting refugee community organisations has enabled us to benefit more than ten organisations and hundreds of people, both in terms of immediate practical assistance and longer-term plans. These include extra Saturday schools for refugee children and adults, sports clubs for young men, family cultural activities, and groups of women developing their own businesses.  We see this way of working as being even more important and effective this year as we can mix with groups face-to-face rather than just with group leaders online.
 
I’m really pleased with our collaborative work with the City Council, Oxfordshire Homelessness Movement, Aspire, some of the University’s Colleges, Ruskin College, St Edward’s School, Magdalen College School, The Story Museum, Sanctuary Hosting, the Oxford Food Hub (formerly the Oxford Food Bank), BlackRock and many other organisations, notably Refugee Resource with whom we work very closely. One part of our joint planning is to explore the viability of shared premises with Refugee Resource in 2022.

Refugee voices at the heart of what we do
We continue to value the work of our volunteers and want to rebuild and reinvigorate the strength of this work post-Covid. But perhaps the most fundamental of all our plans is to do more to put refugee voices at the heart of what we do. We do now have strong feedback systems and our clients rate our services very positively, but we want to go further and look hard at how we better give voice to people with lived experience to shape all that we do and how we do it.
 
We have really valued your support in 2020/21 and hope you will continue to engage with us this year.
 
With thanks

Mark Goldring
Director of Asylum Welcome
Help fight the New Plan for Immigration
As explained by Mark in the last newsletter, the new plan for immigration contains some very worrying elements. A two-tier system of refugees will be created, not based on need but the route an asylum seeker took to get to the UK. Many asylum seekers will be deemed ‘illegal’. They will be returned to countries that they came from or came through, or even to third-party countries that agree to take them. If they can’t be removed and are recognised as refugees, they will have no entitlement to benefits and their case will be constantly reviewed, leading them to live in destitution, with fear of removal at any time. See more here. We want to fight this plan and, from what we have heard, so do you. Therefore, we're asking you to help.
Ashia, who escaped fighting in her own country to seek safety in the UK and now lives in Oxfordshire, said to us: 

“I had a beautiful life. I did not want to leave. We had no choice to leave and find safety. Our hearts are broken. We will get shot if we go home. We are grateful that the door was opened for us. Why are they shutting it now? My family are doctors here and have been helping to fight Covid. We support and do all we can to give back.”
Oxford has a heart - and it is orange
On 10th May a new national coalition of refugee charities is being launched called Together with Refugees.  Asylum Welcome is part of this coalition and the main focus is to fight this New Plan for Immigration. The coalition’s symbol is an orange heart, the colour of the refugee flag, designed to become a unifying visual symbol that all can stand behind to express our solidarity with asylum seekers and refugees.

We want to invite you to:
1. Show your solidarity with asylum seekers and refugees by taking a picture of yourself holding an orange heart and send it to us at advocacy@asylum-welcome.org. We will combine these pictures to create a mosaic heart to demonstrate that there are people in Oxford who have a heart for refugees. We plan to share this mosaic heart with refugees in Oxford to show them they aren’t on their own - we are fighting with them. We’ll also be taking the heart to decision makers to show them how much we all care about refugee rights and use it to encourage more people like you to speak out.

2. On 10th May, or as soon after as you can, share your picture on social media tagging in @AsylumWelcome and using the campaign hashtag #WhoWeAre and/or put your orange heart up in your window to tell asylum seekers and refugees who live amongst us that, despite the negative voices they hear in the debate over the Plan, there are many in Oxfordshire that welcome asylum seekers.

3. Write to your MP, please see our guidance here.

More details of the campaign will be available on our website from the 10th May until the Sovereign Borders Bill goes to parliament in the Autumn – see New Plan for Immigration 2021.

The consultation on the plan closes on 6th May. If you wish to put your comments into the consultation, please see our guidance here. Some organisations are boycotting this but we think that silence plays into Priti Patel’s hands. We encourage everyone to feed into it.
 
Nicky Barnetson
Employment & Education and Advocacy Coordinator
You will be helping clients like Ali
Ali had to flee his country after members of his family were killed and his own life was in danger. He was less than 16 years old at the time. Ali hid locally, but was found, and strangers helped him to flee his country and get to a refugee camp. The camp was unsafe and Ali was alone. Traffickers gained entrance to the camp and enticed people into situations where they were grabbed. Ali was held with hundreds of others whilst the traffickers traded them. Ali paid no money but was used as a tool to generate money for the traffickers.

Ali’s journey took nearly a year and a half, during which time he was made to work, transferred between people. Ali says: my life was not my own. I did not choose where I went.” Ali was then left near Oxford. He was taken to a police station and held there for 24 hours. He spoke no English and could only communicate through a telephone translator.

Ali was taken into care and his world began to change. However, there was one more hurdle to be overcome. There was doubt regarding his age and Ali had to undergo an age assessment – 2 hours of interrogation. Ali had known of others being told that they were 18 and being sent to live in different parts of the country – young people who were now isolated and distraught. Ali was frightened.

However, despite these traumas, Ali now has status. He is an incredible person who is giving back to our community. Ali is a son that we would all be proud of.

Under the new rules, Ali – if eighteen or considered to be eighteen – would not be allowed into the country and would have been deemed “illegal.” He would have been taken to a holding camp; if you want to know more about what these are like you can click here to read a refugee’s experience of Napier Barracks. The government would have tried to return Ali to the country he had fled from, or the countries he had been taken through by traffickers. There’s even talk that people might be transferred to a remote island or third country. Even if Ali had been granted status, he would have remained uncertain of his fate and been unable to study like he is now. Ali would have had no recourse to public funds and would only be entitled to stay here for 30 months at a time. Ali’s life would be so much harder.

You can hear Ali tell his story himself here in David Prever’s BBC Radio Oxford Breakfast Club (15/04/2021, short version from 1:17:49 to 1:23:45 and a longer piece from 2:18.05 to 2:26:56).
Please draw your orange heart and hold it up; then take a photo of yourself in support of Ali and the many like him who come to our shores seeking safety.

Please send us your photos to: advocacy@asylum-welcome.org and/or share them through social media by tagging @AsylumWelcome.

*Please note that by sending us your picture we will take it as consent to use it to form the mosaic heart which may appear in our public communications.
Thank you for supporting us through these dark times
We are incredibly proud of and privileged to live in Oxfordshire, a place that truly cares about the livelihoods and human rights of refugees and asylum seekers, working together in solidarity to help make them feel welcome, safe and confident after all the challenges they have gone through - and are still facing.

Thank you all for your generous response to our Spring Appeal 2021 and for your continued support of Asylum Welcome. Your donations help to improve the lives of refugees and asylum seekers like Ali and Ashia, but also of people like Ruth and Yvonne – people who seek sanctuary in the UK and who face so many complex challenges. If you have not already done so, you can read a bit more about how Asylum Welcome is helping Ruth and Yvonne and many others like them here. Please support us if you can.

With your help, we can continue providing a range of assistance including legal immigration advice, family reunion support, food donations, hardship grants, and help with language learning, education and employment so that our clients are able to move forward with their lives.

As one client recently told us:


With our deepest thanks and warmest wishes to you and your loved ones.

All at Asylum Welcome
With the New Plan for Immigration and the ongoing pandemic, we need your support more than ever!

There are several ways you can help Asylum Welcome:

 Make a donation here.
 Please donate food to Asylum Welcome's Food Bank: food@asylum-welcome.org
 We urgently need laptops and tablets to support clients' home learning and to help them to stay connected. Please email laptops@asylum-welcome.org if you can donate one.
 Join us in opposing the new Sovereign Borders Bill and make your views known by sending us an orange heart, writing to your MP and submitting your response to the consultation here.
 Become a member.
 Share this newsletter with your friends and family.