At the Hackney migrant centre: asylum in austerity
So we go again to beautiful St Mary’s Church in Stoke Newington.
The Hackney Migrant Centre adjoining gives a lunch to people who can’t work or sign on due to their immigration status. I have missed lunch, and am grateful for a free salad with vegetables. Many of the clients however have nothing but time on their hands, and no money for food. For me and for the clients, there is a the space to have a grin, and a full belly, as we discuss their legal problems.
The Hackney Migrant Centre provides somewhere that people with concerns over their immigration papers can come together once a week to share a meal with volunteers and lawyers (and lawyer volunteers). Visitors are met by shrewd elderly ladies who have seen a great deal, bright eyed idealists and a great team in the kitchen.
Ali is a heart doctor. He can’t work because refugees are not allowed to work until their asylum claims are recognised. Never mind that the NHS is screaming for help. In the old days, if the Home Office hadn’t sorted out your claim after six months, you could get a work permit. It makes sense for Ali to be working on dodgy tickers until the officials find his file. Instead, he waits by the telephone for the call that never comes.
Abai is from Eritrea. He was arrested for belonging to the Pentecostal faith. Like many documented cases, he suffered beatings, forced labour, and the notorious “helicopter” – hog tied and hung by his elbows. There were screams then.
Abai’s asylum claim has been recognised. 28 days later he was homeless, as the UK Border Agency had ceased supporting him. A man with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and military training is sleeping in the street. Yet again.
Although a Victorian gothic spire rises gracefully nearby, the event is non denominational. Muslims, Budhists and atheists rub shoulders well enough.
At the table you might hear Rumanian, Arabic or Turkish. What catches my ear is that in this Babel that is London, there is a camaraderie and mutual support between women and men from Brazil to Mozambique. Stressed out people come together, for companionship as much as for the free advice and meal.
The Anglican spires of St Mary’s have been around since 1853. In deep Victorian squalor, there were the seeds of self improvement and charitable acts coming together, dragging our society forward from conditions Charles Dickens wrote about, and these seeds took root.
The project by the Church is downsizing its kitchen to soup and bread, and can’t help as many people as before. Only 40 people every Wednesday - that’s a lot of people to see in three hours folks.
British children wake up hungry every day because their mothers gave birth when not married to the British fathers. 95% of immigration cases will lose their Legal Aid funding this April due to Legal Aid cuts. 70% of family law cases will lose Legal Aid funding. Legal Aid for disabled asylum seekers with housing problems is being deleted, and so they have no enforceable rights. The kids plod on, ignored.
It's easy to feel sad and overwhelmed. Last year during a meeting in Parliament I looked the junior Legal Aid minister Jonathan Djangoli in the eye, and told him that his advice cuts would lead to increased crime and prostitution. He told me that he wanted advice, steered away from lawyers and towards charities such as Law Centres and Citizens Advice Bureaux. The penny hadn't dropped for him that these people are lawyers too.
It's hopeless, really.
Yet here is a charity where people of goodwill come together to support each other. 30 minutes a client won't do it for most people's problems, but we are here now and there is a seed of hope.
Half remembered passages from the King James Bible echo Corinthians 13:13: "And now abideth faith, hope and charitie, these three, but the greatest of all is charitie."
Spare a thought for Faith, Hope and Charity in 2013. We can behave as humans towards each other or not. The choice is up to us.
And if you have five pounds please consider this link: https://secure.thebiggive.org.uk/donation/to/9372/Hackney_Migrant_Centre
- Posted by: Nathaniel Mathews at 10:24am on 21 January 2013
- Filed under: Inequality, Legal aid, Poverty, Unemployment
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