As we sat down yesterday morning to prepare ourselves to welcome our refugee friends to the JRS UK Day Centre here in London, we heard some basic details of our new visitors. Each person’s situation not only showcased the failures of the UK asylum determination system, but also the negative impact for each one of surviving time in detention or living on the streets in London: chronic health issues, mental health concerns, anxiety or depression.
Our country continues to deny basic dignity and safety to people who have fled difficult situations back home, such as violent conflict and war, persecution due to ethnicity, religion or sexuality, oppression due to politics or gender. The system not only make it very hard for them to share their stories and explain their experiences as they make their asylum claims, but often makes them wait for months or years while different processes are completed.
At JRS UK, we have a particular concern for people still refused asylum and forced migrants who have been detained in immigration removal centres or been made destitute, which means they are not permitted to work, cannot claim benefits and have restricted access basic means to live, such as housing or healthcare. Even some foodbanks and hostels do not have places for those we accompany. Meanwhile, those held in detention are separated from family or support structures, not knowing when they might be released (basic information given to others held in prison).
And yet, those who come into our JRS UK Day Centre and those we meet in detention have resilience and courage. They show extraordinary steadfastness and perseverance, partly because they have no choice and partly because the struggle forms their character and capacity to live in extraordinary circumstances. I love seeing the friendships and solidarity between refugees themselves grow at our Day Centre each week. And I learn something new from someone I meet at JRS each week. It is the same for all of us volunteers and staff whatever our own background or circumstances.
So, over the last 5 and a half years, it has been my privilege and a joy to make a contribution to JRS UK’s work by fundraising and helping to bring to the attention of our churches and communities the situation of these refugees in our midst.
I have enjoyed helping them to share their stories in a safe and empowering way through our creative writing or photography workshops and through our blog, particularly for those for whom English is not their first language. I have enjoyed sharing the sorrows and celebrating the joys of small successes, which build trust and community, the sense of which I have tried to communicate through our website and newsletters. I have enjoyed learning about what it means to accompany, to be alongside and serve someone else, without any motivation of doing good or offering ‘charity’.
So, let us continue to accompany, serve and advocate for each person that we meet and those we don’t yet know or who are being assisted by other faith communities and agencies. We can all do this, in our own context – our parish, in conversations with friends or family, with policy and decision-makers when we have the chance. I want to be proud of the way my country offers hospitality, but in the meanwhile, I am proud to have been part of JRS and will continue to pray for the refugees we are here for.
To make a donation to support the work of JRS UK, please go to http://www.jrsuk.net/donate/