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Ethiopian ALF member, Asylum seeker

full story and comments: Rescued_From_Destitution/48332/p1/

CR spoke with asylum seeker Hanes


Around the world asylum-seekers increased by 20% in 2011 and the UK received the seventh highest number of requests worldwide, having received 25,500 in 2011. Amongst those requests are many who are refused, but not sent back. Helping to tackle the consequences and problems connected to this on a number of levels is Boaz Trust, a Christian organisation serving destitute asylum seekers in Greater Manchester. Cross Rhythms spoke with its founder and Hanes, one of the numerous seekers who end up destitute in the UK, to hear his story.

Cross Rhythms: What does Boaz do?

David: Boaz Trust was set up in 2004, to address the problem of destitution amongst asylum seekers, so that's people who've been refused asylum and not sent back. They're left basically with no access to public funds, no benefits, no right to work and nowhere to live. We accommodate as many of them as we can and support them in any way that we can with advocacy, some legal support and feeding, but it's just in the Manchester area.

Cross Rhythms: You work with your clients through three stages; catch, hold and release. Can you explain a bit more about each of those sections?

David: At the moment we're accommodating 68 people in houses, people's homes and in a night shelter and there are about 90 odd on the waiting list and some have been on there for a long time. That's a big number, so we have to make sure that the people we take in are those that are most vulnerable and that we can actually help in some way. That's the 'catch' part of the process; those people that we catch before they completely hit the floor. In some cases, people are on the floor already, because they're sleeping rough, but they're right at the bottom so we catch them and the initial period is just getting them settled in and making sure they've got access to a doctor and the medical stuff that they need.

Then we look at what we're going to do with them in that hold phase while we've got them. We'd like to be able to release everybody within a year, into something better than what they've got, but often that's not realistic. During the hold phase, it's looking at the cases, seeing if they've got a solicitor, if not, then using your own solicitor to help them; helping them to get the evidence for their fresh claim to be put in and all of the things around the life that they're leading, because they have nothing to do during the day, so finding volunteer opportunities for them and training courses; anything that will give them something meaningful to do in that time.

Then release, hopefully, is when they get their papers to stay in the country. In some cases there may be other alternatives; they may well be able to go and live with a friend; they may be able to go and stay with a relative they've found in this country. On a couple of occasions, we've had to say we've had you a long time, you haven't helped yourself very much, you need to go and find something else for yourself, but that's the worst case scenario.

Cross Rhythms: What made you come to the UK?

Hanes: From the history, the UK is for every different people, the home of protection. That is what I think and the United Kingdom is safe place to come to live from persecution, from bad treatment from Ethiopian government or from different African countries. That was my dream to come and live here.

Cross Rhythms: Why did you move from Ethiopia?

Hanes: Ethiopia has a long history. We as a community, as our own people, we are discriminated against, as a nation even. I am personally political activity on the Animal Liberation Front, my family, my father was imprisoned, tortured and killed. They finally come to me, they detain me, torture me and I escape, because of my political view, or activity.

Cross Rhythms: What was going through your mind at that point, just before you escaped?

Hanes: I'm thinking to be in a safe place, to save my life, because it's the most precious thing is life. I'm not thinking about anything, from Ethiopia to live like anybody.

Cross Rhythms: When you got to the UK, what was it like?

Hanes: I'm very happy that British people are very generous, but when it came to government, we came here to seek asylum, we didn't get any protection. We left in destitution on the street.

Cross Rhythms: Where were you sleeping?

Hanes: My case was refused in 2004 and then the Boaz Trust looking around the city, just homeless people, especially asylum seekers, they pick me from Piccadilly train station in Manchester. They gave me a house and food and different things to survive. Someone had told me about Boaz Trust before, but I didn't contact, I didn't know their office, but I hope I can get the place to contact them. At one moment, they find me at that time by chance.

Cross Rhythms: How has the Boaz Trust helped you?

Hanes: It is very difficult to put in a small easy way, its very difficult for me, because Boaz Trust has completely changed my life. I would not be here without them. Especially, I don't have any idea about what to do with my case. I was refused, I had to go home, they can deport me, but Boaz Trust helped me with that; to find the legal people, to set out my case. Today I've right to permit paper to live in this country, that's the kind of thing, the main first thing, accommodation. In this country, you know, it's very cold. They helped to provide me with accommodation, for food, to get access to the health.

Cross Rhythms: Your claim to stay in the UK took a long time didn't it? Tell me what happened.

Hanes: It almost took 10 years to get permit paper, but I claim for fresh claim in 2009. First I was detained by Home Office to deport me to Ethiopia. Then the Boaz Trust helped me; they processed my case through different legal system. Then my fresh claim was accepted. After my fresh claim was accepted, in two weeks time, I received a letter from the Home Office saying that I can remain indefinitely in this country. That is what I received in 2011, in August, after six months of hardly hearing anything from them and waiting while my solicitors continue writing. Finally, after three years, they only send my permit paper and still my solicitor is fighting with that case.

Cross Rhythms: What are you doing now? Are you still staying with the Boaz Trust? Or do you have your own place? Do you have your own job?

Hanes: I can say now that I am still destitute because I have only got a paper. I don't have any benefits. My benefits have not yet started. I don't have any national insurance. My support is limited. They told me that I could live in accommodation; so still, Boaz Trust is helping me to sort out this problem.

David: One of the things we find is that when people get their papers, they think this is wonderful; this is the end of all my troubles and in fact its not, because the system is not set up to really help people who have got their refugee status. They just go into the mainstream system, but sometimes it takes forever. Without National Insurance Number, then you can't get a job, you can't get benefits; so until that comes, you're stuck.

Dave Smith, Founder and Director of Boaz with Hanes
Dave Smith, Founder and Director of Boaz with Hanes

If you're in asylum accommodation, then you're given four weeks to get out from the time you get your letter, saying you've got your leave to remain and then you have to get housing, so you have to go through a housing process, but without a National Insurance Number you won't get anything, so that's absolutely key. Sometimes we've even found three or four people who've got their papers and their name has been spelt wrong, so then they have a choice; do I send it back and then wait months and months more, with nothing, or do I just accept the wrong name and pretend to be the wrong person as it were in order to get the benefits? There are some really big problems when people actually get into that integration period.

With Hanes, he's really helped himself over the last few years, because he's volunteered all over the place. He's done sponsored runs for us, he's done all sorts of things to keep himself busy and to get himself educated during that time, but if you're here for 10 years and you've got nothing on your CV, because you're not allowed to work and you're not allowed to study, all sorts of things you can't do and then it's really difficult when you actually get your papers; so big big problems.

Hanes: To add to that point, when you receive a paper they send you letters saying that your house, your contract, your benefits are terminated, but they don't give you any information of where you have to go. That is a main problem we are facing now. I've got a paper but where can I go for housing or for benefits? So I'm back again to Boaz Trust. They are doing the same thing again and helping me. I have a paper but I am still destitute because I don't have any information.

Cross Rhythms: Because of this big problem, does the Boaz Trust try and fix this problem, by writing to MPs?

David: Yeah. I think it was Jim Wallace, the author, who said if you keep fishing the bodies out of the river, there comes a time when you ask the question who's chucking them in. I think, you know, Christian organisations tend to be very good at putting on a sticking plaster and helping people, but we're not very good at asking the questions; why is it like this?

There's a whole social justice issue, as well as social action issue and so its really important to challenge things where they're wrong; to praise people when they're doing things right, like I say the UK BA are improving the way that they do things; but often it's actually government policy that's the problem. You have to challenge that. We're members of a thing called 'Still Human Still Here', which is a coalition of about 50 organisations like 'Refugee Action', 'Refugee Council', 'Children's Society', 'Barnados', 'Amnesty' and all sorts of groups, working around issues of trying to get things much more fair within the system.

We're engaging with the UK Borders Agency, saying we think this is wrong; when it comes to country reports, often they have the wrong information, so when the judges are making decisions and the case owners are making decisions, then they get things wrong, because the country information is wrong. That needs to be challenged.

You don't have a solicitor at the beginning of the process and that's often where the mistakes happen, right at the beginning when you go to your initial interview. If you haven't been briefed by a solicitor and particularly if you come from a country, for example where women are raped, as an instrument of war, somewhere like the Congo, you may be multiply raped and then you're supposed to tell that to somebody within the first week of coming into this country where you don't know anybody and it's somebody in uniform that's interviewing you and somebody in uniform that did it to you. They expect you to tell them all of that. It just doesn't happen. It comes out then at a later stage, at the appeal stage and the judge, or Home Office will turn around and say, 'Well you didn't say that in the first place, you're lying. You're making it up because we refused you'.

We're challenging those sorts of things and saying this isn't right. The system itself needs completely overhauling and the fact that so many people who win on appeal, demonstrates that the original decisions are often wrong. I think that the vast number of people who claim asylum here, have a good reason for being here.

Cross Rhythms: Since you did an interview here last year, what's changed within the Boaz Trust?

David: We've got another house, so I think we're up to 10 houses now. We're looking after more people, we've improved our infrastructure. We're doing a lot of stuff around women being victims of torture and access to counselling. I think we've improved what we're doing a great deal and the situation has actually got more difficult in some ways because some of the people that have been here a long time are liable to detention.

We had one lady deported to Pakistan from one of our houses and we've had three or four people in detention in the last few months and the amount of mental health problems that we're seeing has gone up quite considerably. A lot of people that have got quite severe depression and real problems with schizophrenia and stuff like that and we're not really able to deal with that so that takes up a lot of time, which we'd rather be spending on other stuff if we could.

Cross Rhythms: You mentioned last year that you'd like to employ a solicitor. Has that happened?

David: Yeah, it has, it's amazing. I can't remember quite where we were last year, but we got a donation from some supporters, who basically gave us �20,000 from a slightly larger donation to do just that and we have. There was a barrister who was working with us voluntarily and he's now working for a law firm in Coventry and he comes and works with us one day a week and does interviews in the office and then the second day he works in his firm and he's going to keep on with that. We're going to have to look for more funding, but when it runs out, there will be other sources and his firm is actually going to fund him to do a day a week with us, so that's great. It just means then, that there's a chance of people being able to move on.

We did a great job with a couple that we had; we don't normally have couples, but one particular couple from Pakistan have just got their papers as a result of some of the work that he's done. She was crippled, I mean she could barely walk and yet they'd been refused asylum, they'd been refused social services support, so that was going back to court, but they've got the papers now and its because we've got somebody working with us on the legal side.

Cross Rhythms: Hanes, if there's any piece of advice or support for people who are in the same situation as you, what would you say to them?

Hanes: I say to them, don't give up hope. There is a hope here. Boaz Trust can help many people and can change your life around. My life is completely changed. I'm grateful for this organisation, so anybody, don't give up, that is my message.

Cross Rhythms: David, how can people get involved?

David: If anyone lives in a city that doesn't have something like Boaz Trust and they'd like to set one up then we can help them set it up. I'm part of a thing called the No Accommodations Network and it's all of the different organisations doing the same sort of thing across the country. We've got connections in Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle and in London; people doing accommodation projects for folks who have been refused asylum.

Obviously we need a load of money. Our budget was about a �250,000. It's going to be more this year. Our workers are run off their feet. The support workers, the amount of work that they do, its fantastic, but they can't do it all, so we'll need to employ more people and so we're going to need more money to do that really. I'm not sure what the budget is going to be for this year, it's going to be somewhere around �300,000, but we could do with �500,000 really. So if anybody's out there, any millionaires, you know where to come. Have a look on the website, we've got a brilliant website, loads of things you can do. It's

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