“When our adult children left home, the two of us found ourselves rattling around in a five bedroomed house. We don’t want to move, certainly not yet, and anyway, we like where we live.
But it did seem wrong to have three spare bedrooms, while we know that hundreds of thousands of people are living in terrible conditions, many of them destitute, because they are fleeing persecution, torture, and death in their own countries.
Nina’s mother was a refugee from Nazi oppression in Europe. When she arrived here as a teenager she was welcomed into this country and enabled to build a life. She developed a business, became an employer and had her own children who went on to create wealth and employ others. We know that the relationship between refugees and their host country can be beneficial to both, particularly if they are well treated and nurtured by their new environment.
So, initially, we set out to find out how we could welcome destitute asylum seekers and refugees into our home, and were very surprised how difficult it was. Obvious first ports of call, like The Refugee Council, the local Council and The Red Cross didn’t seem to have the organisation to deal with the situation, or indeed were opposed to asylum seekers being housed privately, as there is a policy of “own front door” while people are in the process of claiming asylum.
We did discover that there were some small groups, mostly very local and faith-based, who were doing what they could to help, but they lacked scale, structure and organisation, typically having one or two well-meaning volunteers, but not geared up for matching people in the numbers required.
Many people may not realise that while asylum seekers and refugees are housed and fed (albeit poorly) by the Government, there are two circumstances under which those benefits disappear. The first is immediately after an asylum seeker has their application/appeal turned down, the second is 28 days after a refugee is granted status. It can take more than those 28 days to get an NI number, and it is certainly not enough time to get a job and accommodation.
Many who find themselves in this position are then destitute, with no shelter, no food, no money and no way of getting any, some cannot speak English very well. Asylum-seekers are forbidden from getting any paid work – on pain of deportation.
It is those people we are trying to help, and there are thousands of them. We want to give them shelter, safety, food and help in getting on their feet.
We can do a little ourselves. Ahmed is our second guest in our own home; our first was a young lady who had been thrown out on the street at half an hour’s notice by a callous landlord, when her asylum application was rejected. Personally, we don’t just offer space and food, but also a little financial support (like paying for travel), help with the bureaucracy, improving English language skills and putting our guests in touch with people who might be able to help them. We also like to reintroduce them to the better things in life, like art and music, to remind them that there is another world beyond the suffering and deprivation they have seen. We know other potential hosts are willing and able to offer differing amounts of support according to their own means.
We think that it’s important and urgent to build an organisation, Room for Refugees, which can do this more widely, and do it quickly, responsively and responsibly. For that, we need to recruit and interview potential hosts; we have found hundreds of people who say they are willing to give up space in their homes.
We are still building our organisation, but we are making placements as we learn and develop. We are constantly on the lookout for hosts (throughout the UK): people with qualifications in relevant areas (social workers, health visitors, district nurses and mental health professionals) and people willing to do the administration or communications work.
The number and quality of people who are willing to help with our endeavour is truly heart-warming. Prestigious London law firm, Travers Smith, is doing all the legal work completely pro bono (as well as offering their conference rooms if we need a central London meeting), social workers are giving their time, as are various other professionals. Social media has been fantastic. Nearly all the impetus and contacts are coming from Facebook groups, and the deeply committed people who create them. Plus the traditional media has also been very interested and helpful, with articles in the national press and pieces on national TV and Radio.
If you don’t have spare space, you might be able to help with admin, otherwise you might like to provide financial support to a refugee or asylum seeker, by making a regular contribution, or buying travel cards. We hope to move towards charitable status as donations begin to flow in.”
If you would like to help us in any way, please drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
or visit info www.roomforrefugees.uk