Jonathan Bellamy spoke with Will Sutcliffe about the pioneering work being done in Bradford.
With the refugee crisis rarely out of the news and heart-breaking suffering being endured by thousands around the world, it can be hard to believe there is a solution, or that compassion still exists. However in Bradford, an incredible work is being done to take care of destitute asylum seekers and Jonathan Bellamy spent some time with Will Sutcliffe, a man with a big heart for refugees, to hear about what's happening.
Jonathan: Did you set up BEACON?
Will: No, we just had our 10th anniversary last year and are still going strong. I joined them in about 2008.
Jonathan: But you're involved in leading it?
Jonathan: How did it get set up in the first place?
Will: Basically, what was happening and I think it has happened in a number of other cities, which are Home Office Dispersion Areas; that is areas where the Home Office are housing people who sort asylum and are awaiting a decision. These are generally areas with very inexpensive housing and Bradford is one of those and has been for quite a number of years. What churches were finding in the cities is that asylum seekers were turning up in their congregations with very complex needs and the churches felt very ill-equipped to know what to do about it. Their people have little understanding of the asylum system and the issues involved and just hadn't a clue on what to do. So there were a number of meetings and BEACON was set up as an inter-church response to the problem.
There were also some really inspiring and wonderful people turning up in churches and it was the churches that were thinking, how can we help, but also, we want these people to become part of the churches and to be able to give back, but we just didn't understand what to do.
Jonathan: So, tell me a little bit about some of the things that you have set up as a result of this. I know one of them is Hosting?
Will: Yeah, 'Hosting Project' is a small project that I set up on a voluntary basis in about 2008. We have a number of voluntary households. What happens if people seek asylum, is most people arrive, probably just with the clothes on their back. They've been through some pretty tedious and torturous journeys and it can take months, sometimes years, to persuade the Home Office of the validity of their situation.
We can all imagine if we were just suddenly landed, with only the clothes on our back, in another country and had to provide a lot of evidence about our previous lives. It's very difficult. People arrived highly traumatised and they didn't have a portfolio as evidence to put in front of a judge to prove that they've been victims of torture; that they've watched their loved ones murdered in front of them; or that they've been victims of religious persecution, as many Christians particularly are. So a lot of peoples' asylum claims fail very quickly and at that point they become destitute. For a lot of reasons, the Home Office doesn't generally deport most of them straight away, not least because it's impossible sometimes to deport people back to war zones.
So people would become destitute and have no recourse to public funds, which means they can't claim any sort of benefits; they are not allowed to work; not allowed any housing and so they're landed in a foreign country with absolutely nothing and no means of supporting themselves.
So this project and another one I'm involved in called 'Abagail Housing' in Bradford, provides accommodation for people in that situation. It's short term, while they're trying to gather enough evidence to resubmit an asylum claim and the great news is many of those go on to succeed. People who might have otherwise been forced to return to unimaginable situations overseas, actually do eventually get their refugee status in this country and are able to rebuild their lives. There's an awful period of destitution that many people go through in the meantime though.
So with the Hosting Project we have got some wonderful, very inspiring people, who provide a spare room in their homes and will accommodate somebody for a period, with support from myself and the project. This is just for while they're gathering that evidence and working to put a new claim in.
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