Monday, 29 July 2013

Himmah and Nottingham Arimathea Trust

An interview on the Building for the Future show on Radio Dawn 107.6FM back in 2011 was with Mohammed Sajid from Himmah Nottingham and Wesal Afifi from Nottingham Arimathea Trust (NAT) who were summarising the work that had been performed over the last year by the Community Aid Nottingham Project (now called the Community Fund).

The project aimed to provide a subsistence allowance to some of the most destitute refugee and asylum seekers in Nottingham.

Sajid described the incident that first made him realise the scale of the problem in Nottingham. He had noticed that there was a very quiet, elderly gentleman who would be at the door of the Islamic Centre when it opened in the morning. Sajid noticed that the person would use the showers at the Centre, say his prayers and then leave later in the day – but it was only when Sajid began talking to him that he realised the sadness of his story. talked to the visitor and was shocked at his story.. .

The apparantly elderly gentleman told Sajid that he was 44yrs old, partially blind and had fled Algeria to escape persecution. He had sought asylum in the UK but there had been problems with his application and he was now destitute, reduced to sleeping in a shed at night.

He also told Sajid that he was not the only person in Nottingham who was in this situation and that there were some 60-70 others who were similarly destitute (some in Nottingham estimate that there are actually several hundred people being caught in the destitution trap)

Together with some friends, Sajid set up the “Community Aid Nottingham” (CAN) project which aimed to provide a £20 per week subsistence allowance for destitute asylum and refugee status seekers who were being housed by Nottingham Arimathea Trust (NAT).

Before describing the work of CAN and NAT in more detail, it is perhaps worth stepping back a little to understand some of the terminology and processes involved.

An ASYLUM SEEKER is someone who has fled their homeland to another country and exercised their legal right to apply for asylum.

A REFUGEE is someone whose asylum application has been successful and has proved that they would face persecution in their home country. It is worth mentioning that Arica and Asia host more than 75% of the world’s refugees, with Europe looking after 14%. (UNHCR, 2007 Global Trends: Refugees, Asylum seekers, Returnees, Internally displaced and Stateless Persons, 2008)

A REFUSED ASYLUM SEEKER has had their claim for asylum turned down and been told that they cannot remain in the UK. This does not necessarily mean they were lying or that it is safe for them to go back to their country. Administrative errors, failures in research and a lack of good legal representation all lead to asylum claims being turned down.

The asylum seeker can appeal if their claim fails, but this process can take many weeks, months or even years. Critically, once all their appeals have been completed, the asylum seeker receives no subsistence or accommodation support at all. Wesal described how their plight has become even more dire in recent times due to the fact that two of the major legal aid providers have gone into liquidation in the last year, due partly to cases now being funded on a flat rate rather than hourly basis.

Some asylum seekers may end up sleeping rough whilst others may “couch surf”. As you can imagine, this is a precarious existence and one that makes it very difficult to organise ones case during the appeal process, not to mention the stress and mental health issues that it can cause.

Many asylum seekers who are in this situation contact the Refugee Forum or the Red Cross for help. Whilst these two organisations can provide advice and administrative help, they cannot provide accommodation.

The Refugee Forum or Red Cross will, in turn, contact organisations such as NAT for help with accommodation.

NAT are a charity funded by a number of organisations, including the charitable foundation Lankelly Chase and the Lloyds TSB Foundation (the funding for Wesals position is currently coming from Trent Vineyard Church). They manage 3 houses (two for males, one for females)in Nottingham which are used to house destitute asylum seekers. The aim is to provide accommodation for asylum seekers during the period between their initial application being turned down and receiving further evidence which solicitors can use to prepare further submissions or fresh asylum claims. This time period can range from a few weeks to a several months.

When a place becomes available NAT calls for referrals from partners such as the Refuge Forum and then assess the cases based on need. They also ensure that the person offered the place is actively looking to resolve their case.

NAT try to ensure that the asylum seekers in their accommodation are provided with legal representation and a volunteer befriender or mentor. This is someone who they meet with regularly to get to know Nottingham, practice their English or help with phone calls to solicitors etc.

NAT also helps people to find medical support and English classes, as well as giving them volunteering opportunities. One of the houses has a vegetable garden that is being developed by the residents who are also planning to build a chicken coup so that they can live a more sustainable lifestyle on a low income.

However, whilst NAT can get funding for trips and activities, it finds it much harder to get support for the asylum seekers essential living costs. The Refugee Forum provides some help with this by providing a weekly food parcel of basic foodstuffs and a £10 per month allowance, but are unable to offer more due to the relatively large numbers of asylum seekers that they are supporting.

This is where the Community Aid Project kicks in. Being focussed on fewer people (i.e. those in NAT Accomodation) it is able to provide a more significant subsistence allowance of £20 per week. This is crucial to giving the asylum seekers some dignity and self-respect by allowing them to purchase basic items. The effect it has had on the asylum seekers can perhaps best be understood by listening to their own words (taken from a project feedback report) which are shown in Part 2 of this post.

Feedback from the asylum seekers who had been supported by CAN and NAT was very positive, as can be seen below:

Male Feedback Comments
“We can organise ourselves now we have money, instead of spending all day walking to projects and restaurants seeking free food”.

“We have choice now in that we can buy food or maybe something else we need, such as socks or underwear. These items need replacing often, especially if you have few items and the discomfort when they are worn is difficult”.

“Without money we have no choice and no dignity. We are still deprived much dignity but this is much better than the old ways of support” [food parcel and £10 cash a month from Nottingham Refugee Forum].

“What I came to this country for is protection not for money or anything, but we are treated like animals for years to try to force us to leave”.

Female Feedback Comments
“Before I used my £10 to top up my mobile to ensure I could contact people when I needed help, now I can top up when I need to and I feel safer knowing I have credit and people I can call when I need to with any problems”.

“Before I didn’t like to go out in the evenings in case I had to walk home late at night. Now I can get a tram or a taxi and it means I am going out much more, I’ve even started college again in the evenings”. (Disabled young woman)

“We can now buy clothes, rather than just taking what people are giving you. It makes me feel much better having the choice and being able to go into shops knowing I can choose things”.

“We can spend money on toiletries and sanitary products for women. These are essential needs but no one provided for them before. We had to buy the very cheap products because of very limited income and they were uncomfortable, but now we can buy what we need and the better products which are much nicer for us to use”.

Community Aid Nottingham raised £4271 (mostly as Zakat, but some as Sadaqah), which was spent on providing a subsistence allowance for 9 residents (many of whom benefited in the first quarters support), of the 9 residents, 6 were Muslim and 3 were other faiths. 5 were disabled and 5 had complex mental health difficulties. 6 residents were male and 3 were female. They came from Iran(x 2), Syria(x2) , Zimbabwe(x2) , Algeria, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq , Kenya and Rwanda

Over the six months of funding the ages of the residents ranged from 17 (age dispute client, where client says he is 17 but Home Office have assessed as 18) to 46, with the majority being in their twenties, which reflects the trend in terms of asylum seekers in the UK.

The work of CAN has now been taken over by Himmah Nottingham under the “Community Fund” Project. With the original funding having been used up (indeed, the Community Fund is now in debt to NAT !), Himmah are looking to raise funds to keep this project going so the destitute asylum seekers can continue to be given a little dignity and help whilst they are enduring some very difficult circumstances.

Interestingly, and unusually, Sajid was keen to point out that Himmah are more interested in getting peoples time than their money. What they would like most of all, is volunteers to sign up to a place on a nine week rota, so that they just had to come in on a Saturday morning one week in nine to help in preparing occasional meals and in food distribution at the Refugee Forum or to simply spend a little time talking to the asylum seekers. To volunteer your time, donate money or simply to find out more about the project, you can call on 07980 407282 or visit the website at

BFTF asked Sajid about lobbying and whether it had any effect. His response was to point out that the lobbying by a number of local groups involved with asylum seekers had led to a commitment by the UK Borders Agency to look for a local venue for asylum seekers in Nottingham to report to, instead of having to travel to the Loughborough Reporting Centre every 2 weeks, a journey that is almost impossible if you have no income. Additionally, Citizens for Sanctuary are now running a mini-bus to Loughborough to make the journey easier for destitute asylum seekers who have health problems.

Given Wesals background in refugee activities both in the UK and in her home country of Egypt, BFTF asked what the differences were in the treatment of asylum seekers in the two nations. Wesal responded by saying that the biggest difference she had found was the very hostile press and media coverage that asylum seekers are given in the UK compared to Egypt.

No comments:

Post a comment