The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead

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July 2017

London Churches Refugee Fund

John Willmer

June 2017 sees the 10th anniversary of LCRF.  It was established by the ecumenical London Churches Refugee Network to raise funds to assist Christian and other agencies to help support and provide emergency relief to destitute asylum seekers in London.  Ten years on the need for such help is as great as ever.

LCRF’s annual report has just been published and can be downloaded from www.help4refugees.co.uk.  It well illustrates reasons how and why this occurs.  Not only do asylum seekers arrive, after an often horrendous journey at great risk, destitute, in many cases traumatized by persecution, torture, rape or other violence, having seen and suffered the loss of their families or loved ones, but they may face a hostile environment.  Immigration has featured heavily in the campaigns leading up to the Brexit referendum and the recent general election, with poisonous arguments and the seeking of artificial limits on numbers, but one never or rarely seems to hear anyone arguing for exception to be made for such refugees or asylum seekers or for them to be treated with consideration or sympathy for their plight.  All too often they include unaccompanied children, whose families have been destroyed.  What must it feel like to arrive alone in a foreign and unfamiliar country?

Organisations helped by LCRF report that the level of destitution is rising. To quote from LCRF’s annual report, “Even as we sustain our humanitarian response through providing food, clothing, hygiene packs, travel and mobile cards, the typical items for which the Fund’s small grants are used, the rise of public anti-migrant attitudes and behaviour which we have witnessed since the Brexit vote calls for a full and coordinated advocacy response on behalf of churches and local communities.  We have a shared responsibility to people assessed and rejected, or simply failed, by the system.”

Here are just three examples of people helped by agencies supported by LCRF:

M’s father worked as an interpreter for the British and US armies in Afghanistan.  When M was 14, the Taliban murdered his father as he slept, then returned twice to demand that M work for them.  Although he was not ready developmentally to leave home and family,  he had to do so.  After months of travel, abused and neglected, he reached the UK at the age of 15.  His asylum claim was refused but he was given leave to remain until the age of 17 and1/2, and put in the care of social services, when his application to remain was again rejected and he became destitute.  The Boabab Centre for young survivors in exile used funds from LCRF to enable M to buy food and travel to his solicitors and medical appointments, pending the final outcome of his application for asylum.

A, an Armenian journalist, was persecuted by his government for promoting human rights and campaigning against them.  He escaped to the UK but his claim for asylum was rejected.  Suffering from mental health issues because of the trauma he had experienced, his GP requested that he be moved to London for treatment, but this request was ignored and all Home Office support was withdrawn, leaving him homeless and destitute.  Haringey Migrant Support Centre referred him to a hosting project and with a hardship grant from LCRF covered his travel to his host family.

S is a single mother with a small child.  She suffers from depression and stress from her sufferings in Syria and her isolation, and worries for two children whom she had to leave in Syria.  Migrant Voice was able to provide her with financial support for food, and clothing for her child, and is helping her to appeal against refusal of asylum.

Many other examples could be given.

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