(This page is still under construction from information provided during and after the meeting on 21 October 2015.)
The process is that someone arrives in the UK and notifies the authorities that they wish to remain, at which point they become an asylum seeker. If they are granted the right to remain, they become a refugee. This means there are three basic areas of activity directly involving them, each area having its own challenges. In addition, we need the government and other policy makers to make wise and compassionate decisions about law, policy and resourse allocation, which creates another distinct set of challenges.
The other significant piece of context is that we must prepare for the possibility of significant numbers of new arrivals in Bristol, while still caring for the people who have already come.
Resources are needed in all these areas: in some areas, the need is mostly for practical help and volunteers, in some areas it is mostly for finance; but even when the need is mainly practical, money is needed for the basic infrastructure and to support and organise the volunteers.
If people want to help, the main areas where assistance is needed can be described as follows.
|Seeking to Enter
|Seeking to Remain
|Building a Life
|Influencing Public Policy
|Establishing the underlying principles
|Publicising the stories and facts
|Promoting specific solutions
|Asking those in power to help
We are seeking to provide a complete list of all the groups in Bristol working to help refugees and asylum seekers. Of course, many other groups provide help without explicitly targetting them, but once you start down that route it is hard to know where to stop.
People leave their homes: they are mostly driven out by war or by individual persecution. They almost always leave with the hope of returning home one day.
Where possible, the journey is usually undertaken by young men as they are less vulnberable than then women, children and old men, and they are better able to handle the risks. The plan is usually for them to find somewhere safe and then send for the rest of their family.
There are massive refugee camps in countries such as Lebanon and Turkey; there is also a large camp in France outside Calais.
The situation in these camps varies greatly: some are very basic; others have more facilities. But people can remain in them for a long time, with their lives effectively 'on hold'.
Transport is undertaken largely on foot, but they need the help of criminals to smuggle them across borders: in places, this means an incredibly dangerous sea journey.
We are not aware of groups in Bristol working to address this aspect of the situation.
When people arrive with nothing, possibly not even speaking the language, the challenge of finding accommodation is far greater than simply identifying a place to live, although that itself is very difficult.
Asylum seekers need a great amount of help when applying to the Home Office for the right to remain in the UK, and when appealing against the usual initial refusal.
The normal legal principle of 'innocent until proved guilty' is reversed when it comes to asylum seekers: they are assumed to be lying unless they can prove otherwise.
Asylum seekers are expected to ensure, when they leave their old homes, that they bring with them all the necessary paperwork to prove who they are, and also documentary evidence of the danger they are escaping from. They are expected to keep all this safe on their journey, and present it in support of their application.
When a person is granted the right to remain, the legal challenge is over, but many practical challenges reamin and some become much harder: the offical support disappears.
Bristol has a housing shortage even before we start to help refugees. There are significant challenges in where and how accommodation is provided.
One of the key steps to integration is employment – made even more vital because of the lack of benefits. Training in the English language or other skills is often an important part of helping people find and keep employment.
Support for refugee children who have lost their parents is a distinct area of work.
Christians need to be clear about the Bible's teaching about caring for the poor and for refugees. This can help to motivate us and inform our response.
When seeking support from politicians and members of the public, facts and arguments must be presented which do not require belief in the Bible or in any religious tradition. The faith basis and motivation of religious people and groups should not be hidden, but it cannnot be pesented as a reason why others who do not share the same faith position should choose to help.
Stories are vital: they motivate people to action, but the action we are seeking to motivate people towards must be based on the facts as we can best determine them.
People have come up with a variety of creative responses to the challenges described above. Some of them can be implemented without any official support, while others cannot happen without it.
We need to ensure that those in power hear clearly what we would like them to do, so communication is essential. Personal letters to Government Ministers and MPs are effective forms of communication, as the assumption is that for every person who writes there are probably a hundred people who feel the same way but have not written. Petitions are less effective as an individual response, but are easier to organise. Face-to-face meetings, where possible, generally have the greatest effect.
Some people do not want refugees and asylum seekers in Bristol; others are suspicious of their motives and intentions. We need to consider these concerns and be able to offer reeasonable answers.
A number of concerns centre around the question of economic migrants – people who come because they want a better standard of living, not because they are escaping violence or persecution.