Your stories of Sanctuary

We want to collate stories to explain how the hostile environment impacts on people seeking asylum

Are you involved with people who have been granted a positive decision, but then find themselves homeless because of the short notice they are given to leave their asylum accommodation?

We seek to bring together some of the observations that our Meetings of Sanctuary have made regarding the recent ramping up/harshening of the hostile environment. We would like to include both the good things that Meetings of Sanctuary and others are doing and the bad things they might have witnessed locally.

We ask that information does not put anyone at increased risk, and we do not need to know the names of people in a vulnerable situation.  

Please send stories to Sheila Mosley – info@qarn.org.uk . Stories received will appear below:


February 2023: Submission to QARN from Nailsworth Meeting Sanctuary group on the Hostile Environment

Context

Nailsworth Meeting in Gloucestershire became a Sanctuary Meeting following an Area Meeting all day workshop on Sanctuary Meetings in 2018. While Nailsworth itself is a small town which does not have asylum seekers living in the immediate vicinity, in other parts of Gloucestershire there are substantial  numbers of asylum seekers being accommodated  in four hotels and dispersal accommodation, as well as a smaller number of Syrian and a few Afghan families here under the resettlement  programmes. There are also quite a large number of Ukrainians being hosted by families across the district.

Aspects to be hopeful about

  • there is a highly effective voluntary organisation in Gloucester providing professional support for refugees and asylum seekers, supported by a large team of volunteers. Our own meeting regularly  supports this through Meeting collections and joint fundraising ventures with other groups, putting out calls for items needed by those in the hotels and through individual volunteering.
  • the four hotels now accommodating asylum seekers in the county draw on a wide network of community support and while there is negative opinion expressed in some quarters, there is also locally  a wide network of political and activist groups ( with many Quakers amongst them) who regularly show their solidarity, for example when there were demonstrations against the Rwanda deportation plan.
  • another local project offers retreats in a rural, village setting for people seeking sanctuary and is supported by a number of members of our meeting.
  • The Ukraine crisis sparked a large community response within the District, with many  fund raising activities , the forming of a very active co-ordinating group “Stroud Ukraine Refugees Community Support” and many individual support Whatsapp groups within villages where people are hosting
  • four members of our meeting were active in founding a local refugee campaigning group – Stroud District Together with Refugees – in response to the government’s increasingly hostile environment. A recent initiative of this group was inviting the public to write messages of support for refugees on orange hearts and hanging  them on a Christmas tree during a late night Christmas fair in the nearby town of Stroud. Just under 100 messages were gathered in two hours, with subsequent good coverage in the local press
  • the local District Council is very supportive of refugees and asylum seekers, has recently appointed a Migrant Champion, and has allocated funds in their new budget to support refugees and asylum seekers in the District.

Speaking truth to power

  • Our Sanctuary Meeting group, acting on behalf of our Local Meeting,  has sought to engage with our local Conservative MP,  over the government’s recent immigration legislation and Rwanda plans, holding two meetings with her over the past 18 months. The fact that we have asked to meet her in the name of Quakers has enabled us to establish a regular dialogue with her, with invitations after each meeting for us to meet again in six months time. However despite very cordial discussions, we feel we have failed to move her at all from her hard line repetition of the government narrative around “Illegal migrants”. On the plus side our most recent engagement did result in her agreeing that choice of language could be inflammatory and that there was a need for more sensitivity. It should also be acknowledged that her constituency office has been active in helping Ukrainians  arriving locally, although we regard this with a little scepticism as it enables her to  appear supportive of refugees while still totally backing her own government’s policies.
  • early on in the Ukraine crisis, our Meeting’s Sanctuary Group put together for Friends in the Area Meeting a resource document with links to articles and information about refugees and asylum seekers. The purpose was both to signpost Friends to information about hosting Ukrainians if they felt called to do so, while at the same time seeking to raise awareness of  the wider refugee crisis and ways we can speak truth to power on this.
  • following the outcry about the Manston processing  centre, our Sanctuary group initiated the writing of a letter to the local press from the three Local Meetings in the District, expressing our shame at this event, and were pleased to see that it was published as the letter of the week

In summary

We feel despair at the intransigence of our government in pursing their increasingly unjust and racist policies, but somewhat hopeful that locally there is a clear swell of compassion for those seeking sanctuary.

Jude Emmet, John Geale, Wendy Gerard, Liz Whiteside


Stratford-upon-Avon Quakers: Stratford-upon-Avon Quakers have been supporting a local community group, Welcome Here, which is supporting Afghan refugees in a local hotel and asylum seekers in another local hotel (as well as refugees from Ukraine). The main actor is a group called Welcome Here, but Stratford Quakers have bee involved and supportive of its work since it started seven years ago. If you would like more details, please contact us on the QARN email address and your message will be passed on.

In Friendship, Roger Matthews Stratford-upon-Avon Quakers


25 April 2023: A person befriended by Quakers has waited 14 months for the Home Office to respond to her ‘fee waiver application’ so that she can renew her visa and has a legal right to work.

H is a citizen of Zimbabwe who received the right to remain in the UK six years ago.  She did not go through the asylum route, but was given permission to stay in the UK because she is the sole carer of her young son, who is a British Citizen.  

H began the process to renew her ‘leave to remain’ in January 2022.  For this, a fee of about £2,600 has to be paid.  On advice, she applied for a ‘fee waiver’ on grounds of destitution, sending all the necessary documents on 27th January 2022. On 24th February 2022, the Home Office confirmed that they had received everything and stored her documents on their database.

Since then, H has had no communications from the Home Office, despite making calls and sending letters.  She cannot progress her visa renewal application further without the fee waiver.  She has no right to work and is struggling to support herself and her son on Universal Credit.  She has to report to the Job Centre regularly and to attend inappropriate (for her) courses on preparation for work/how to find a job.   She has potential employers keen to employ her as a social carer (of which UK has a great shortage), since she is a qualified nurse with excellent language and social skills.  Tax payers’ money is being spent to support H and her son, when she is desperate to work and just needs the fee waiver accepted. She is living in long-term social housing.

On 19th September 2022, H wrote to her MP, laying out her case and requesting his support.  The MP wrote to the Home Office on her behalf, but there was still no response.

On 7th January 2023, Quakers wrote formally to the MP, in support of H, ending: “We ask you, please, to take all possible steps to resolve this matter as soon as possible.” 

This was followed up by phone calls.  As of 24th April 2023, there has been no outcome and H still has no legal right to work.

There must be many other people similarly ‘stuck in limbo’, within the same backlog as all the hundreds of thousands waiting for a decision on their initial asylum claims.