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
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.