Monday, 13 December 2010

Appeal for Asylum Legal Support

Appeal for Asylum Legal Support

By Howard Sichinga

Manuel Bravo Project in Leeds has appealed for more legal support for asylum seekers.

The appeal was made by the New Project Manager, Catherine Beaumont, when she
addressed Press Gang journalists to pledge support for the launch of the City of
Sanctuary in Leeds.

The manager observed that there are many asylum seekers who are looking for legal
support to make appeals and fresh claims but very few find such help because of shortage of legal experts and financial resources.

Catherine pointed out that currently her organization uses volunteer solicitors and other legal specialists to offer legal assistance in making appeals and fresh claims. She explained that while volunteers are doing a commendable job the demand and pressure for their services at their organizations is also very high. This affects service availability and delivery against a backdrop of short timeframe for making appeals.

The Project Manager said that with increased legal and financial support her
organization would be able to help many asylum seekers who are currently making appeals on their own without any expert legal advice.

The Manager welcome the launch of the City of Sanctuary in Leeds and pledged that
her organization will share information and work with other organizations to improve the welfare of asylum seekers in leeds.

City of Sanctuary is a national movement which seeks to build a culture of welcome and hospitality to people who have come to UK seeking safety. It aims to create a network of towns and cities that are proud to be safe havens for people seeking asylum.

Interview with Mahsa from Iran

Interview with Mahsa Rahbari, 25 years old, Iran

Why did you come to the City of Sanctuary launch?
I have been working as a volunteer receptionist at RETAS for about 5 months which is where I found out about the event. I am originally from Iran and study for an access course in art at Leeds College of Art. I managed to have an art exhibition at RETAS and was invited to this launch event where I would also be able to exhibit my art and help out with the organising of the event.

Why is City of Sanctuary important to you?
I am actually an asylum seeker from Iran. I have lived in the UK for a year and 9 months. I think Leeds has been welcoming towards me but could do more to improve how asylum seekers are made to feel. It is an important issue for many asylum seekers. They often have a lot of problems and need peace, space and to feel welcomed. I think support would help them calm down and feel at peace.

Were you made to feel welcome when you arrived in the UK?
Applying for asylum was a strange process. You don’t have any good feelings and are made to feel bad and unwelcome. At RETAS, they are nice and welcoming which made me feel better. They support me. I improved my English, my skills and am more confident.

What do you think people in Leeds can do to help make asylum seekers feel more welcome?
Many people do not know anything about asylum seekers and refugees and I think they can inform themselves. This is very important to combat negative press. They can also help others to stop thinking asylum seekers are bad people all the time who are criminals or only here for money.

Anne Burghgraef of SOLACE thrilled by the launch of Leeds City of Sanctuary

On 11 November Leeds held its City of Sanctuary launch event, to celebrate the official beginning of a project which aims to make Leeds a more welcoming and enjoyable place to live for refugees and asylum seekers.

One of the 300 people attending the event was Anne Burghgraef, Clinical Manager at Solace, a charity that provides free counselling, psychotherapy and advocacy for refugees and asylum seekers who have suffered persecution. Anne was one of the first people to support the idea of Leeds becoming a City of Sanctuary over two years ago, and is thrilled that the movement has finally been launched.

“I grew up in an immigrant community in Canada before moving to England, and have some understanding of the experience of having to adapt to a new culture, of being an invisible foreigner. The world of asylum seekers is like a parallel universe. People don’t see them or even know they exist. City of Sanctuary is a great opportunity for the people of Leeds to get to know asylum seekers and their plight, and their lives will be enriched as a result.”

Anne became a therapist at Solace after studying psychology, social and psychotherapy in Toronto. She found that many traditional Western views of psychology were very individualistic and failed to take into account broader issues such as people’s worldview and culture. She hopes that City of Sanctuary will encourage Leeds to embrace these different cultures and help people feel more welcome and accepted within the city.

The importance of projects such as City of Sanctuary must not be underestimated: “Research into mental health suggests that the most significant factor affecting asylum seekers is the support they receive then they first enter the country. No matter what they have been through in their home country, if people are made to feel welcome and supported when they arrive then they find it much easier to adapt and move on with their lives.

“Many people come here with education and skills but find the way of life here so different that they are unable to put their skills to use. Something I would like to see happen with City of Sanctuary is a co-operative scheme where skilled local people provide mentoring and support to refugees, to help them adapt and use their skills in a way that benefits both them and the rest of the community.”

City of Sanctuary is a fantastic opportunity to improve awareness of the issues faced by refugees and asylum seekers and to help people regain control of their lives, restoring dignity and promoting social integration. Anne hopes that the launch is just the beginning of the realisation of that opportunity: “I’m a developer; I want to see things grow. This is an opportunity to hear people’s stories. It is a blessing to have the chance to learn about so many people’s countries and cultures.”

Solace website:

Interview with Fabian Hamilton MP at City of Sanctuary Leeds Launch

Interview with Fabian Hamilton MP at City of Sanctuary Leeds Launch

STAR: What made you return from London to this particular event and why is it important for you?
FH: Firstly because Tiffy Allen who is a fantastic woman and does so much, came to see me a number of times about City of Sanctuary; secondly because this is a cause I’ve been working for all my political life, especially the last 13 years since I’ve been MP. I do six advice sessions every month, each with eight appointments and usually up to half of those will be refugees and asylum seekers, with the most harrowing stories you’ve ever heard, so over the years I’ve built up this volume of examples of how bureaucracy treats people like dirt and how it needs to change, so it’s been a cause celebre for me for 13 years.

STAR: What is your City of Sanctuary promise?
FH: My promise will be to continue giving the best political support I can to the most vulnerable people in the world, who’ve come to seek sanctuary here; to make sure that bureaucracy doesn’t cause them to despair, and to actually allow them to become refugees and live amongst our society. They don’t have the right to vote so there’s nothing in it for me, it’s purely a commitment to the principal that people who come here to seek asylum, to seek sanctuary, should be given a fair case, and nine times out of ten their case does justify an approval.

STAR: Since the Conservatives have come into parliament, have you noticed a change in the way people are talking about refugee and asylum seeker issues?
FH: They perpetuate the view that we spend far too much money on asylum seekers and refugees, who are undeserving, who come here to exploit our system, and that’s the Daily Mail view of asylum and sanctuary. They want a slice of our country’s wealth, we give all our tax money to them and our own people suffer as a result. That’s the mythology. And it is a myth. The cost of asylum seekers is a fraction.
One chap said to me recently on the doorstep, ‘if it weren’t for all these asylum seekers I’d get a decent pension.’ I said ‘I’m sorry sir, that is a lie, if we closed our borders to all asylum seekers, you might see 5p a week extra.’ That’s what we’re talking about here. We have to explode that mythology, and the Tories really want to built that up, because in the end, they are the xenophobes and I think it’s tragic. Though I will say one thing in their favour. They have selected candidates, who are now members of parliament, deliberately from different ethnic minorities groups. So when I look at the Tory benches now, there are many more people of African origin, Caribbean origin, Pakistani origin and so on, than there used to be. That diversity has given them an edge, but it doesn’t make them any more liberal, I’m afraid to say.

STAR: If you’ve heard of the group United for Refugees, they sometimes have MPs speaking at their conferences and it’s always good to hear a voice of reason.
FH: Well if I can help in any way, do invite me. I obviously have a bit of a vested interest because my Dad came over as a 12 year old to escape Nazi Europe, from Vienna. There is a wonderful couple that I’ve know all my life, who are now in their late nineties, and they came from Berlin in 1938. They were already married, and that’s 72 years ago! A lot of people I know came as teenagers and children in the late thirties; they are old men and women now. There is a close friend of my mum’s, who came to Leeds aged 14 in 1938 from Berlin.

STAR: And at the time the Daily Mail already had a lot to say about this
FH: Exactly, and this woman, who retains a German accent, once said to me ‘Darling, this is terrible, these asylum seekers are coming here, getting everything free’ and I said Laura, you were an asylum seeker! ‘No it was different in those days, nobody gave us anything.’ So that’s alright then? You know, you had a really hard time! ‘I know, we struggled we struggled.’ So why should everyone else struggle? She couldn’t see the irony of what she was saying, it was hilarious.

STAR: Ok well thanks very much for answering our questions, and thanks for showing your support this evening.

Interview conduct by students on behalf of STAR Leeds (Student Action for Refugees)

Interview with Jemma Russell on City of Sanctuary

Interview with Jemma Russell on City of Sanctuary
What is City of Sanctuary?
City of Sanctuary started in Sheffield in 2005 by a group that wanted a city-wide movement to welcome refugees and combat negativity towards refugees and asylum seekers. Since then it has spread to other cities and now cities can gain City of Sanctuary status. Leeds is launching its movement on the 11th of November. The hope is to bring organisations and individuals already doing positive actions for refugees and asylum seekers together as well as encourage others to take part who may not know much about refugee issues.
What made you get involved in City of Sanctuary?
I am a member of the Leeds University branch of STAR (Student Action for Refugees) and have been since I started university. I work with and for refugees and asylum seekers and have also participated in the Leeds Better Housing Campaign group that aimed to challenge providers of housing that weren’t adhering to their contracts. This campaign lost momentum but has been integrated into the City of Sanctuary movement.
What do you do to help welcome refugees and asylum seekers?
I am a volunteer at Common Conversation where I help teach English. This is a great place to meet people and support asylum seekers and refugees who may be experiencing isolation. I am also a STAR committee member and work with them to promote positive images of asylum seekers and refugees.
What inspired you to get involved and support refugees and asylum seekers?
There are many other valuable causes, such as the environment, that have lots of coverage and supporters. However, the isolation and destitution of refugees and asylum seekers is often relatively unkown by the public and there is little focus in the media. I wanted to do something also as important, if not more so, given the problems of destitution and isolation that go relatively ignored by most of the public. I also realised how easy it was to get involved and be supportive by carrying out small actions.
What will happen after the City of Sanctuary launch?
Those involved in City of Sanctuary realise that just getting individuals/organisations to sign promise pledges to be more welcoming won’t make Leeds more welcoming. It is the actual acts that people do that matter and that will create a welcome and hospitable environment. Therefore, we will aim to have monthly meetings for any individuals and organisations to get together, find out about volunteering, the work each other is doing, campaigning and fundraising. It will also be a place for refugees and asylum seekers to find out about services on offer to them. Hopefully, we could have English conversation classes running alongside this.
What will STAR be doing in the City of Sanctuary movement?
STAR are committed to getting the union to sign a promise pledge as well as students, societies and individuals with the aim of getting Leeds to become a University of Sanctuary. We will approach departments with ideas of actions they can do as well as submit motions to our Union forums and hope to build up momentum towards the University of Sanctuary goal. On top of this, we will carry on with our volunteering, campaigning and fundraising work.

City of Sanctuary Interview with Christina Macdonald, Property Manager from Ethical Property Company

City of Sanctuary Interview with Christina Macdonald, Property Manager from Ethical Property Company.
LASSN: Could you give us some background as to what Ethical Property Company does?
CM: We provide office accommodation to organisations that are contributing to positive social change. That remit is quite broad, but it includes the voluntary sector, charities, campaign groups and some social enterprises. We have 15 centres around the country, and I am property manager in the Leeds branch at Roundhay Road Resource Centre, so I make sure this place runs ok and that all the tenants needs are met.
LASSN: Does the company currently work with any refugee and asylum seekers communities?
CM: Not directly, but around the country we do have refugee groups that attend the centres and also organisations who support refugees and asylum seekers, such as RETAS and LASSN here at Roundhay.
LASSN: What was your motivation for joining the City of Sanctuary movement?
CM: Although we don’t formally work with these groups, apart from as our tenants, we are very supportive of organisations who work in this area, and when we had the opportunity to join City of Sanctuary, we knew it was something we needed to get involved with. To me it sounds like it’s building a network of organisations, be they schools or businesses or voluntary groups that positively send out messages and actively promote a welcoming environment for refugees and asylum seekers.
LASSN: I suppose the key is to transmit that message across to the wider community and hopefully dispel any misconceptions.
CM: For sure, and I’ve been thinking about ways we can increase awareness of these issues, as in many cases people don’t know any asylum seekers or refugees and so don’t know their personal backgrounds and how difficult their lives can be.
LASSN: And often it can take one personal meeting to see through the cover-all terms, into a real life with a rich character and history, which is why events that promote social interaction are so valuable.
CM: Exactly, and the launch party will be a great way of celebrating peoples’ cultural diversity. Within our company, I’ve written an article in our staff newsletter to raise awareness and highlight what we can do as an organisation. In addition to that, every six months all the property managers from around the country come together to discuss current issues and I’m hoping to invite someone from Bristol City of Sanctuary to come and talk to us.
Although, I would hope, most of our colleagues are sympathetic to the cause, some of our building contractors, who may have had less contact with these groups and individuals, might feel more detached, so I’m going to invite our contractors to the celebration event of the new art exhibition at the Roundhay Centre as well as the City of Sanctuary launch. This should spread the word to people who wouldn’t usually hear about these things.
LASSN: What do you hope the City of Sanctuary movement can achieve?
CM: As we’ve discussed, elevate the awareness of issues refugees and asylum seekers face and off the back of that evoke a sense of empathy which can drive people to do something positive. This will hopefully inform opinions, and instead of seeing immigration as a problem, illustrate the benefits cultural diversity can bring to society.

Interviewed by Simon Wasser, University of Leeds