What they don’t do is describe how, in the week of that AGM and parliamentary debate, a hundred new Afghans arrived in Oxfordshire, many at just hours’ notice. Asylum Welcome is supporting them in two local hotels while they begin the long wait for permanent housing. It is positive that the government’s resettlement programme is still alive for some of those people at high risk who manage to travel from Afghanistan to neighbouring countries. It’s much uglier for those others, often in similar need, who don’t get on these programmes and make their own way overland to try and get to the UK. They are the ones likely to be deported to Rwanda or detained in Campsfield if it is reopened. It is that injustice that inspires Corinne’s powerful and beautiful artwork you can read about below.
Asylum Welcome’s work is a rich tapestry with multivarious strands and – continuing the theme of domestic crafts – our amazing volunteer Hannah has written a personal and uplifting account of her work with some of our Afghan clients, using knitting to create a ‘language’ beyond words.
We are very grateful to Hannah for reflecting so thoughtfully on her own volunteer journey as well. (A longer version of Hannah’s article is available on our website at the link here.)
|Knitting together: my volunteer experience at Asylum Welcome|
by Hannah Hempstead
|My family moved to Oxford from the United States at the beginning of September, just as families were being evacuated from Afghanistan to the UK in 2021.|
I grumpily unpacked my knitting supplies and shoved them in the cupboard, grumbling about the inconveniences of an international move: setting up new Wi-Fi; changing phone numbers; the never-ending piles of paperwork. I missed my old knitting group, I missed my old friends, I missed my old job, and I missed my old home that made sense. Soon enough I’d be dusting off those knitting supplies to start a fibre-arts activity group with families who are still, as I write, housed in a hotel and awaiting permanent homes.
I first joined Asylum Welcome to help with behind-the-scenes work. With my background in higher education and no foreign-language skills beyond German, I had written off the idea of being useful in a people-facing role and asked if I could help with the website. But Hannah and, Hari took the time to get to know me and helped identify ways to both apply my skills and branch out into new experiences. Because of their encouragement, I now have the joy of getting to know the Afghan families using a special ‘language’: knitting!
Several skilled adults come along simply to stitch in a social setting. A few women are putting us to shame with beautiful handiwork like the beautiful white crocheted cardigan in the photo below. Others come and observe whilst they chat with friends. Still others, mainly teenage and younger girls, are quickly picking up a new hobby to enjoy on the school bus or during free time.
To me, the group isn’t just about the jumpers, hats, or scarves we complete (although those are fun, too), it’s about more than that. Participating in a shared activity together, teaching each other new stitching skills, digging through big bags of donated wool, and celebrating milestones like new knitter’s first-ever row of stitches, has provided us all with a shared space to build community and friendship.
As a newcomer to the UK, my volunteer experience at Asylum Welcome has become one of the most significant things that has made Oxford feel like a home to me in the seven months since my arrival. And that is what Asylum Welcome does: help people regain a sense of dignity, space, place and home.
Want to get involved? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you can help or want to support our work in other ways!
P.S. We are still welcoming donations of yarn and knitting materials. If you have any to spare, please drop them off at Asylum Welcome’s office during our opening hours (Mon – Fri, 9.30am – 4pm).
What did we learn from the Rwanda court case?
by Dr Hari Reid
Asylum Welcome staff joined protesters outside the Royal Courts of Justice supporting the legal challenge to the Rwanda plan.
A five-day hearing into the Rwanda policy took place from Monday 5th – Friday 11th September. We demonstrated outside the Royal Courts of Justice on Monday to show our opposition to the policy. The hearing revealed a number of highly concerning issues which, until now, were not made public.
The government’s own experts repeatedly found Rwanda to be an unsuitable country for offshoring asylum seekers. They cited ‘extrajudicial killings; the recruitment of refugees to conduct armed operations in neighbouring countries, including children aged 15-17 to fight across Rwanda’s border in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’ and ‘a red traffic-light rating in relation to human rights.’ Investigations found evidence of torture and disappearances, and the UNHCR ‘identified a 100% refusal rate for Afghan, Syrian and Yemeni cases.’
The hearing revealed that ‘Rwanda was not on the shortlist of seven countries with which to further explore the plans [for offshoring]. Indeed, it was on a separate list of 14 countries to not do a deal with.’ The revelations from this case have reinforced what we already knew: that the Rwanda offshoring policy cannot go ahead. We expect to hear the results of this case in couple of months’ time.
The next court hearing is on 10 October. For the latest developments, follow our friends at @DetentionAction, @pcs_union & @Care4Calais.
800 St Edward’s pupils starting the Steeplechase race on 29 September 2022 in St Edward’s grounds.
We are incredibly grateful to all community organisations, schools, churches, village halls, local refugee support groups and neighbour groups across Oxfordshire doing everything they can to help raise awareness, make refugees feel welcomed and supported and raise funds to support our work through a broad range of very creative, fun and engaging events. Below we invite you to attend and support some of these upcoming events in October being organised by groups as diverse as Oxford Contemporary Music, Old Fire Station, Abingdon and District Twin Towns Society, amongst others.
But first, we would like to say a Huge Thank You to St Edward’s School, who chose Asylum Welcome as their Charity of the Year in 2022 and have been fantastically generous supporting refugees and asylum seekers in Oxford over the last several years. An important part of the St Edward’s School ethos is that their pupils get to know and contribute to their local community. Through their partnerships and service programme they create opportunities for meaningful and mutually beneficial connections between St Edward’s and other local schools and charitable organisations, Asylum Welcome amongst them.
Pupils, parents and staff have bought and distributed personally over 500 Christmas gifts to our most vulnerable clients across the city, they have opened their doors so that Afghans, Ukrainians and all our clients can have access to their facilities, have organized sporting activities, including football and cricket matches with our clients playing with their pupils in their fields, are providing English lessons and have raised a huge amount of funds very much needed to support Asylum Welcome during these most challenging of times. Most recently, at their wonderful annual Steeplechase event on 29th September, the Teddies raised a whooping £22,000!
Pupils at St Edward’s Steeplechase.
Amia Guha (AW Student Ambassador/volunteer), Alastair Chirnside (St Edward’s Warden), Rachel Moffatt (St Edward’s Partnerships Manager) and Gilberto Estrada Harris.
To everyone at St Edward’s: Thank You!
‘Beyond the Pale’
The Proscholium, in Oxford
17 September – 6 November 2022.
For more info visit Bodleian Libraries
Corinne Welch’s wonderful scroll will be displayed as part of the ‘Beyond the Pale’ exhibition at the Old Bodleian Library.
Twin Towns Charity Music Concert
Amey Theatre, Abingdon
7 October 2022, 6:30pm
Abingdon and District Twin Towns Society is organising a wonderful Music Concert in aid of charities, Asylum Welcome and Ukrainian refugees.
Tickets: £10, £5 concessions, £20 family.
Bar and refreshments.
For tickets, click here (or poster below)
Dido’s Bar | Dash Arts
27 – 29 October 2022
Ticket prices: £10, £18, £26 plus Pay What You Decide (PWYD) online through Oxford Contemporary Music, or in person through Old Fire Station Oxford.
Aeneas walks into a bar on his first night in Oxford: a refugee forced to leave his homeland. He finds himself in Dido’s Bar, where the House Band play jazz and folk influenced by their own cultures. Spotted by bar owner Venus, Aeneas is pulled onto the stage and so begins a story of love, jealousy and ambition.
Sit at a table and watch the story unfolding all around you as the OVADA Warehouse is transformed into Dido’s Bar: a cabaret-style venue at the edge of town. The international cast draw from their own heritage to inspire the music: the tar and tanbour of Persian classical and Kurdish folk music, Arabic and Berber singing styles, Finnish folk songs and a Western jazz trio of keys, drums and bass.
Dido’s Bar is an epic retelling of Virgil’s Aeneid, one of the world’s oldest myths of migration and the founding of Europe, Aeneas “made a refugee by fate” flees war-torn Troy (in modern day Turkey) to find a home in Italy. Facing resistance from humans and manipulation from Goddesses Juno and Venus, he ends up founding the Kingdom that would become Rome.
Retold for the 21st century through the eyes of refugees today, the show is inspired by Director Josephine Burton’s encounter with Kurdish Iranian refugee and now Finnish resident Composer, Marouf Majidi.
Oxford Contemporary Music will be raising funds for Asylum Welcome through the ‘last night party’ event, which will be a performance from the Starling Sessions project.
For tickets and more information, click here: Dido’s Bar | Dash Arts