POTENTIAL hosts for destitute migrants filled a hall in east London one evening last week, eager to find out about the practicalities of offering shelter.
The event, organised by London Hosting, a partnership of organisations including Praxis, the Jesuit Refugee Service, and Housing Justice, attracted people from almost every London borough, who learned that, while Syrian refugees were unlikely to be placed in their spare rooms, there was no shortage of others in limbo.
The Home Office had overseen “the deliberate creation of a hostile environment”, the CEO of Praxis, Sally Daghlian, said. This was confirmed by Jean Demars of London Hosting, who described the grinding process of securing asylum. Multiple applications were usually necessary, he said, leaving applicants drifting in and out of the system and, thus, of entitlement to support. Many people lacked the paperwork to prove that they had a right to remain. While Syrian refugees would be hosted by local authorities, others were desperately in need.
One man, aged 76, was found sleeping rough despite having worked in a factory in north London for decades. A host accommodated him while the “very slow” process of resolving his case began. A young Ethiopian woman who arrived in the back of a truck, aged 16, had spent seven “wasted” years in limbo.
Hosting matched such people with hosts willing to offer a room for a four-to-six week period, Mr Demars explained (although other time periods were possible). Casework was taken care of by professionals: it was the “personal encounter” that the hosts could provide. After an initial meeting, both parties went away and reflected, before signing a non-binding hosting agreement.
Current hosts spoke about their experiences, which had been overwhelmingly positive. Chris and Anya described sharing an Eritrean meal cooked by a woman who had been trafficked and lived a life of domestic servitude for 45 years. All guests wanted to help, they explained, and they had had to “run after one woman to stop her from cleaning everything”.
It had been a learning curve, they admitted. Their laissez-faire attitude at the beginning had been “unfair” on their guests, they realised, and they now set firmer boundaries about sharing food, for example.
Brian, who offered his spare room after taking early retirement, felt that he had gained more than his guests from the experience. Although he had been “a bit anxious” about providing guests with a key, there had been no problems. His current guest, Hassan, described the programme as “amazing”.
The level of interest in hosting in recent weeks had been unprecedented, the director of projects at Housing Justice, Alastair Murray, said. Typically, he receives about one or two offers per month. This has risen to about 100, which, he said, was “marvellous and encouraging”.
“We are not going to turn our backs on these people because we are told they should not be here,” he said. “We are going to respond to this humanitarian need: it’s an important message of solidarity.”
Kent charity delivers aid to Calais Jungle
by Ben Bano
THERE are two distinct areas to the camp known as “the Jungle”, in Calais: a main area, and a second area, which is inhabited by Afghans, Eritreans, and other groups. It is the area where the Eritrean Church is situated.
This area seemed to me to be more deprived: the recently installed toilets were full to overflowing, and unusable. I was introduced to an 18-year-old girl whose hands were bandaged: they were seriously injured when she tried to scale the (British-funded) high-security fence. She will need specialist medical help.
But, in the middle of all these challenges, a restaurant has been set up. I ate some delicious Afghan delicacies for €1. And a French volunteer had brought a generator with him to enable people to recharge their mobile phones.
We were able to deliver our goods to Secours Catholique, part of the charity Caritas. We saw that it was difficult, but not impossible, to deliver clothes direct to the Jungle. Distribution of other goods is sometimes possible, but volunteers are needed for the distribution centre. A commitment of two weeks is requested, and they have to find their own accommodation. The work alternates between the warehouse and the Jungle.
New trainers, jeans, etc. are particularly in demand. For collections in October, waterproof and winter jackets are especially helpful. Another need which we are exploring is for tools — there is a constant need to repair fragile shacks, etc. — and also sewing kits. For more information, phone me on 07887 651117, Phil Kerton on 01474 873802, or visit www.seekingsanctuary.weebly.com.